Corrections or additions?

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

immortalized

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

iconography

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

the theater.

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

reality

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

identical

Inferno murals that provide the play’s backdrop, and Bogart’s

vaudeville-paced

direction. Maurer, who gets cast credit as playing character

"A,"

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

memorabilia

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.

HH

— Simon Saltzman

Culture of Desire, New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East

4 Street, New York, 212-460-5475. $35.


Previous Story Next Story


Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments