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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
September 30, 1998. All rights reserved.
Review: `Culture of Desire’
It was 1968 when American pop artist Andy Warhol was
shot, but not killed, by friend Valerie Solanas. Whatever Solanas’s
motive, no one believes that her action had anything to do with her
reaction to Warhol’s commemorative Marilyn Monroe series, the
cans of Campbell’s tomato soup, the sounds of Warhol’s music group,
The Velvet Underground, nor to his soporific film "Sleep."
It was between 1300 and 1310 that Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet,
wrote "The Divine Comedy," the record of the poet’s journey
through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.
In `Culture of Desire,’ Warhol reconsiders the Dantesque terrain of
his life and career, led not by Virgil, as was Dante, but by fashion
doyenne Diana Vreeland. This is a netherworld that embraces an
of rampant consumerism and a culture that is conditioned to imitate
life rather than take it as an initiative. Not a bad landscape for
a significant, if self-absorbed, artist intrigued by the exalting
and merchandising of the popular and the mundane. It’s not a bad idea
for a play: "Shopping and Fucking" did it with finesse. Just
kidding. So where does "Culture of Desire" go wrong?
Writer and director Anne Bogart, whose work is noted for its attempt
to revitalize contemporary theater, has created an amusing, if not
particularly revelatory, satire that illustrates the effects of people
raised as lifetime buyers in a world obsessed with the accumulation
of wealth, fame, and material possessions. That our souls and psyches
may be in mortal danger is certainly a question for the sages through
the ages, if not necessarily the answer for a satisfying evening in
Bogart’s play vamps tentatively and not especially audaciously between
a purely metaphysical world and a world reconsidered from Warhol’s
perspective. Nevertheless what we get in revue-like sketches is a
paradox: a Warhol who is brash and insecure, depressed and euphoric,
sensual and asexual, and a lot of others in funny clothes. With all
that, we see the fragments of an artist who knew how to glorify the
now and how to capitalize on a fetish. The painful and pathetic
of his personal life leads Bogart to consider it much too casually
in metaphoric terms.
While it is very possible that Warhol (played by female actor Kelly
Maurer) may, indeed, have said, "Don’t make me laugh, it hurts
when I laugh," as he recoils from the gunshot, an act that is
repeated in the play a number of times, it isn’t likely that you will
laugh as much at that as at the imagery, in particular the three
Inferno murals that provide the play’s backdrop, and Bogart’s
direction. Maurer, who gets cast credit as playing character
plays Warhol. She has Warhol’s wan looks and woozy persona down pat
and is fully engaging.
Okay, as far as it goes, but perhaps Bogart doesn’t take us far enough
into the superficial darkness that was Warhol’s inferno. Conversely,
too many opportunities for some really outrageous humor are missed.
After all, Warhol was a character non pareil who shot (pardon the
pun) over 50 films, founded Interview Magazine, had a TV show, and
suffered from perennially bad hair days.
The other cast members, all of whom play unidentified "B"
characters from Warhol’s circle of friends, critics, and others, float
in and out of this phantasmagoric world mostly on shopping carts in
a setting, cleverly designed by Neil Patel, of mobile cardboard boxes.
Seen as a wall, these are evidently designated to represent Warhol’s
"time capsules," some 600 boxes in which he saved such
as theater programs, White House invitations, and anything he had
touched during the course of a given day.
The seven-member company appears to be having a grand time parodying
such ’60s icons as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Vreeland,
and Jacqueline Kennedy, as well as members of Warhol’s own crowd Edie
Sedgwick, Ultraviolet, and Henry Gedlzahler. A little tapping to the
Shirley Temple hit, "You’ve Got To Eat Your Spinach Baby,"
is a highlight. Other such comic set pieces may or may not help either
you or Warhol, the play’s central character, actually discover any
more about art, our society, and consumerism, than we already knew
when we arrived. But while it lasts, it’s one hell of a trip.
— Simon Saltzman
4 Street, New York, 212-460-5475. $35.
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