The Odyssey Theatre's Student Outreach Program (Odds) and the Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy have teamed up with Theatre Movement Bazaar's Tina Kronis (choreographer) and Richard Alger (playwright) to create a dance-performance piece based on the life of Andy Warhol.
The piece deserves a better title than Untitled Warhol Project (at the Odyssey Theatre through Nov. 18), which is, remarkably, both retro-hip and lame in the same breath, tired from overuse.
The work itself is not tired. It's the brainchild of co-director Leslie Ferreira, who approached Kronis and Alger to help develop his idea for a stage biography of Andy Warhol, based on interviews, set to movement, and including some original text. This is why Alger's credited contribution is “text engineer” rather than “playwright.”
The vivacious cast of 17 (students of LACC's Theatre Academy) move gracefully and impressively through Kronis' sly, sassy dance moves. In the interviews and dramatic scenes, the ensemble shows a sophisticated and wry intelligence, along with the tiniest hints of callowness in the delivery that comes from youth portraying characters more seasoned by life than the performers.
Costume racks appear on the stage, from behind which actors pull their garb for upcoming scenes. Abel Alvarado and Catalena Lee's costumes take us through the '60s era of Warhol's Factory, a hangout for transvestites, socialites and artists, in general.
The text is explicitly biographical or consists of excerpts from interviews. Daniel Button and Gabrielle Lamb double as the title character, capturing Warhol's sexual confusion and ambivalence.
Button is pleasingly droll when answering an interviewer citing another interviewer accusing Warhol of not being original.
Warhol simply agrees. I'm not original, he says. Yes, I do copy. It's easier.
The performance gets to the heart of a paradox that's now moved well beyond the art world into the modern information age: Warhol's celebration of the facile and the famous. Warhol once exuded about his love of Hollywood and its celebrities.
Warhol believed that artists create things that aren't needed, whereas the famous have something everybody wants. This is terrible news for people trying to create something original and profound.For these people, even in the 1960s, Warhol was the prophet of a cultural apocalypse.
In the play, he is both the embodiment of pretentiousness and its opposite: plainspoken and distracted, he turns a movie camera on one of his “superstars” (the title given to the big personalities who were part of his inner circle) just to explain and walks away. It's easier that way. The camera does all the work, he says. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever doesn't, doesn't. This is one of the birth pangs of postmodern cinema, high art that looks a whole lot like reality TV.
“Whatever happens, happens” is very much part of Warhol's life philosophy, tethered directly to his philosophy of making art. It shouldn't be as agitating as it seems, and as it was, to neurotics and control freaks. Warhol's view is actually as liberating as surrender.
The staging and the play get to the heart of that idea. Even when superstar Edie Sedgwick loses her mind and her life, Untitled Warhol Project is a lovely, oddly sweet event.
Thursdays-Sundays. Starts: Nov. 8. Continues through Nov. 18, 2012