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Tragedy in 9 Lives
by Les Gutman
For those interested in Andy Warhol, his compadres and hangers-on, there exists an almost endless supply of raw material: the product of his own voyeuristic obsessions and a healthy dose of media attention. It's been well over fifteen years since Warhol's death, which is enough time for some perspective. We've had a number of films and documentaries in the last few years. Now we get Karen Houppert's play, which is not so much a re-examination as a re-visit.
If the design achieves verisimilitude, so does everything else. Warhol's film documentation of his friends was extensive; it was random and filled with drug-addled rants. As one critic related, it conveyed a "contagious lethargy". The same qualities obtain in Houppert's Tragedy. Unfortunately, they don't make great theater. The challenge in presenting a show such as this is to find a way to make it compelling; this was not a call Ms. Houppert, her director, Stephen Nunns, and company chose to embrace. So despite a few successful scenes, and a few fine performances, much of the show is an exercise in tedium.
Some of the show's best segments involve Valerie Solanas (Juliana Francis), with material culled from various interviews and her SCUM Manifesto. Oftentimes, it seems it is she, rather than Warhol (T. Ryder Smith), who is the focus of the piece. Ms. Francis effectively and believably conveys the over-the-edge Solanas. The same cannot be said for the rendition of another Warhol regular: Ondine (James "Tigger" Ferguson); he's all hackneyed spectacle, and one of the major testers of our patience. Smith, however, finds just the right tone for Warhol: aloof and elusive.
The show's major invention is a reporter (Chris Spencer Wells), who arrives straight-laced and descends into a sort of hip hell. Wells is the show's bright star, and his transformation is an impressive sight to witness. One might have hoped that Ms. Houppert would have utilized him more effectively to create structure and focus, but as he deteriorates, so does the storytelling.
The show is billed as a musical, which I suppose technically it is, but its six songs (written apparently in collaborative jam sessions involving much of the cast and band) don't do a great deal to aid the story beyond adding another layer of ambiance. Notwithstanding, I liked much of the music, and can also report that Mr. Wells, in addition to being a welcome addition to the New York acting scene, can also sing quite well.
When Cher saw The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, she is reported to have said "[i]t will replace nothing -- except maybe suicide." An overstatement here at least, but not that far off. It would take more than a bottle of beer to make this the happening it seems to want to be.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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