“This is no way to treat a future Pulitzer Prize finalist!” exclaims a black intellectual, shot by a surly cop in Ishmael Reed’s play Body Parts. Happily, no cops—surly or otherwise—have ever shot Reed, himself a Pulitzer Prize finalist for 1972’s Conjure. This lack of injury has allowed him—when not founding PEN chapters, working on behalf of adult literacy, winning MacArthur awards, and composing poems—to scribble a few scurrilous, satiric plays. This latest receives its East Coast debut at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, under Rome Neal’s direction.
Performed enthusiastically (if perhaps without much benefit of rehearsal), the play concerns a pharmaceutical corporation desperate to cover up its drug tests on indigent African-Americans. The corporation also channels money to the Tough Love Institute, a black neocon think tank. Politics, race, sex, medicine, academia, outsourcing—Reed leaves few targets unhit. The text is slapdash but sharp. Lest all that mockery leave an acrid taste in one’s mouth, Neal is on hand before and after the show to serve up generous dollops of his homemade banana pudding. “It’s my way of showing love to my audience,” he says in his curtain speech. And Reed’s play, one must assume, is his way of showing something far less gentle.