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THE SLAVE WHO LOVED CAVIAR Will Have World Premiere at Theater for the New City Next Month


Performances run December 23, 2021 to January 9, 2022.

Playwright Ishmael Reed uses satire to explore aspects of American culture and history overlooked by others. Taken by the one-sided commentary about the relationship between Andy Warhol, a god of the New York Art World, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, made by Warhol groupies and critics, Reed offers a different view. His new play, "The Slave Who Loved Caviar, A Theatrical Investigation Into the Relationship Between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol," challenges the notion that Jean-Michel Basquiat was merely Warhol's "mascot." The Nuyorican Poets Cafe produced a virtual reading of the play in March 2021. Now Theater for the New City will present its world premiere December 23, 2021 to January 9, 2022, in a full production directed by his frequent collaborator, Carla Blank.

Though Warhol worshippers claimed that Basquiat was beholden to Warhol for his fame, Basquiat said that it was the other way around. Indeed, art dealer Bruno Bischofberger claims that Warhol's reputation was on the decline when he began a collaboration with Warhol. It was Basquiat who evidently re-invigorated Warhol, inspiring him to return to painting. Theirs was a seductive personal and professional partnership which Reed renders as a sort of artistic vampirism in which Basquiat was the victim. One critic called it "Lesbian Vampirism."

Warhol had a fascination with the legend of Count Dracula, which is why there is a cartoon-style running gag included in this play. It centers on a certain Baron De Whit, son of Dracula, whose Abstract style is passe as audiences insist that human figures re-enter the art scene. His agent recommends a plan to energize his sagging career by following Warhol's example: find a young, vital, Black graffiti artist to be his collaborator. A youth they have found, a Basquiat imitator named Young Blood, fits the bill.

Struck by the number of times that images of body fluids are invoked in the relationship, Reed's Chief of Detective Mary Van Helsing engages two forensic experts, one white and one Indian, to investigate the reasons for Basquiat's death at the age of 27, while she concentrates on the disappearance of a Black female performance artist. As this duo compares notes, an accusation of the Warhol set--and the art world at large--for the expropriation of Black artists takes shape before us. The indictment is that Warhol and his entourage killed Basquiat with intense production demands, dinner parties, drugs, and women. After they absorbed his vitality, they abandoned him, wanting only his "new blood."

Similar charges reverberate through the autobiographical reflections of two other characters who walk through the play: Jack Brooks, a now-homeless Black abstractionist painter, and a Richard Pryor of the Dream, a character no doubt inspired by Reed's friendship with the comedian dating back to the 60's. They testify what it's like for Black artists to "abandon the people and do that sterile European thing" and now to be "a fading anachronism."

Reed also throws a classical metaphor into the two artists' relationship. Reed asks, "Was the love affair between them, the older artist and the beautiful boy, like that between the aging Emperor Hadrian and the ancient world's beautiful boy, Antonius? After the death of both youths, their images were distributed throughout the Empire. Antonius was called Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead. Like Osiris, everybody wanted a piece of them. Others viewed them as demons. Antonius was the superstar of the ancient world; Basquiat is the superstar of the 2000s." Reed creates Manhattan as a graveyard for Black genius. They don't call it The Big Apple for nuthin' he says.

The play's reading last March at Nuyorican Poets Cafe generated enthusiastic testimonials. Ron Scott, writing in the Amsterdam News, declared, "I loved the play funny...enjoyed every minute of it. The cast is remarkable. Bravo!" Poet and playwright Christopher Lonely called it "a tour de force mixing the essayistic and dramatic, campy B-movie melodrama with anti-racist art history."

Ishmael Reed has been described in The New Yorker as "American Literature's most fearless satirist." His prodigious output includes twelve novels, nine collections of essays, fifteen anthologies of criticism and ten plays of which this is the latest. His last one, "The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda" (Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 2019), offered a tale of a naive, defensive Miranda awakening to the sins of the Founding Fathers. Writing in The New York Times, Elizabeth Vincentelli characterized it as "classic activist theater" and "a cross between 'A Christmas Carol' and a trial at The Hague's International Criminal Court." Reed's eighth play, "Life Among the Aryans" (Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 2018), envisioned a future when the downtrodden denizens of the Alt Right realize they'd be better off if they were Black. His latest anthology, "Bigotry on Broadway," co-edited with Carla Blank, was published this fall by Baraka Books. His best-known novel, "Mumbo Jumbo" (1972), was cited by Harold Bloom as one of the 500 great books in the Western Canon. His newest poetry collection, "Why the Black Hole Sings the Blues: Poems 2007-2020," was released from Dalkey Archive Press in November 2020. He is also a publisher, songwriter, cartoonist, public media commentator, lecturer, teacher, and founder of the Before Columbus Foundation and PEN Oakland, non-profit organizations run by writers for writers.

Reed's honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, nominations for a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, the 2008 Blues Songwriter of the Year from the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame, San Francisco LitQuake's 2011 Barbary Coast Award and the University of Buffalo's 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award, and the 2017 AUDELCO Pioneer Award for the Theater. He was San Francisco's first Jazz Poet Laureate from 2012-2016. He is also an accomplished pianist and songwriter; his tunes have been recorded by Gregory Porter, Cassandra Wilson, Macy Gray, Taj Mahal, and Bobby Womack.

Reed taught for over 35 years at the University of California and was honored as their Emeritus Professor Awardee of the Year 2020. He is now a Distinguished Professor at California College of the Arts and also taught a Spring 2019 creative writing class at UC Berkeley. His online literary magazine, Konch, can be found at www.ishmael reed His author's website is www.ishmael

Carla Blank is a director, dramaturge, writer and editor. She directed "News from Fukushima," a multimedia performance work by Yuri Kageyama at LaMama in NYC (2015) and Z Space in San Francisco (2017). A documentary film of the 2017 performance is receiving international acclaim. She directed Ishmael Reed's "Hubba City" in Xiangtan, China in 2016 and in 2013, directed Palestinian and Syrian actors at the Al Kasaba Theater in Ramallah in an Arabic language production of "Holiday" by Philip Barry, which toured West Bank cities. From 2003-2012 she directed productions of Wajahat Ali's "The Domestic Crusaders." A collaboration with director Robert Wilson, "KOOL- Dancing in my Mind," an homage for Japanese choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi, premiered at NYC's Guggenheim Museum in April 2009. She is Ishmael Reed's wife of 50 years.

The actors are Jesse Bueno, Maurice Carlton, Raul Diaz, Roz Fox, Laura Robards, Monisha Shiva, Brian Simmons, Robert Turner, and Kenya Wilson, who with Daniel Lugo also serves as an understudy. Rome Neal, Director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, is Production Coordinator. Video production is by Zohair Zaidi. Set designer is Mark Marcante. Assistant Set Designer is Lytza Colon. Lighting Designer is Alexander Bartenieff. Costume Designer is Diana Adelman. The Projection Designer is Miles Shebar. Original music is composed and performed by Ishmael Reed.

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