Wednesday, September 27, 2017

WARHOLCAPOTE A.R.T. Loeb Drama Center Through October 31. Review by Ed Meek


From the Words of Truman Capote and Andy Warhol
Adapted by Rob Roth
Directed by Michael Mayer
Starring Stephen Spinella and Dan Butler

Film critic David Denby once said he has a hard time sitting though a play. Drama is a unique experience today. We sit, without distractions, focusing on what the people on stage are saying and to a lesser extent, doing, since in drama, dialogue is part of the action. Drama has a number of constraints. Unlike movies, there can be no grand battles; there are only so many characters that can fit on a set. We can’t zoom around the galaxy or dive under the water or follow horses around a track. Instead, drama and conflict, expressed in language by a limited number of characters must hold our attention. As in fiction, good playwrights hold back information, leading the audience by the hand through scenes that reveal character and perhaps truth. For example, In Parks’ Top Dog/Underdog, we slowly learn the background of two brothers and the conflict between them, culminating in a climatic conclusion. Along the way, themes of racism, exploitation, and our susceptibility to the con are explored.

Rob Roth developed WARHOLCAPOTE, based on conversations between the two iconic American artists taped by Warhol. Capote and Warhol represent something we don’t see much of today: celebrity artists. Capote appeared on Johnny Carson and was touted by Norman Mailer and critics as a great American writer. His novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s featured Holly-go-lightly, the character played by Audrey Hepburn in the film based on the book. In Cold Blood was a significant predecessor of creative nonfiction and nonfiction television serials like Making a Murderer. Warhol, with his Marilyn portfolio and his Campbell Soup cans, was perhaps the most famous artist in the United States in the 1960s. At the same time, Warhol’s work expressed the way that through fame, individuality is lost. Both Warhol and Capote apparently threw great parties.

The two even hoped to do a play together. Warhol, who was four years younger than Capote was obsessed with him. Capote was already famous when Warhol arrived in New York. He wrote fan letters to Capote daily and hung outside his apartment hoping to meet him. When he finally was invited in, Capote thought Warhol a strange and lonely guy but as time passed, Warhol gained fame and they became friends. Warhol stuck by Capote when he became embroiled in a scandal based on a story he wrote called “A Cote Basque” in which he attacked and exposed a number of his socialite pals. Warhol and Capote remained friends until Capote died in 1984.

Rob Roth says he drew from 59 cassette tapes as well as interviews and other recordings over a period of years to create the play. WARHOLCAPOTE can be charming and entertaining, like listening in to the conversation of an interesting couple at the next table in a restaurant, (There’s a salacious story about Capote and Humphrey Bogart that I wish I hadn’t heard.) but there is no drama, no conflict. No catharsis. Diane Paulus, the Artistic Director of A.R.T. says “the two artists imagined a play that would blur the boundaries between reality and art.” Paulus like Warhol is great at combining art and commerce. The Harvard Museum is currently featuring prints of Warhol’s portfolio of Marilyn Monroe.

Mahler’s film My Dinner With Andre has a similar premise. Mahler thought the conversations between his two friends were really interesting. What if he filmed the two in a restaurant? In My Dinner With Andre, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregary engage in an argument about opposing world views. Shawn is very animated and enthusiastic in his delivery. Gregory is low key and rational. During the course of the argument, they reveal who they are and what they believe in and prompt us to raise questions about what is important in life. The movie is in essence, a filmed play and their opposing views furnish the necessary drama.

There are other problems with WARHOLCAPOTE. One of the two principle actors dropped out of the play just before it was to begin. Dan Butler bravely jumped in but he had to keep a script in his hands throughout the performance I saw. Unfortunately anyone who plays Capote begs a comparison to the late, great Philip Seymor in the film Capote. Stephen Spinella plays Warhol as a quirky dweeb with a high-pitched flat accent. Warhol was certainly quirky and whimsical but he was also really smart with great business sense. He once said: “good business is an art form.” He was very social, loved to throw parties and go to Sudio 54, launched Interview magazine and successfully married commerce and art in his work.

The play has a great set. At 90 minutes with no intermission, it moves along quickly.

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