by Mike Hoban
“WARHOLCAPOTE” – Adapted by Rob Roth from the Words of Truman Capote and Andy Warhol; Directed by Michael Mayer; Starring Stephen Spinella and Dan Butler; Scenic Design by Stanley A. Meyer; Costume Design by Clint Ramos; Lighting Design by Kevin Adams; Sound Design by John Gromada; and Projection Design by Darrel Maloney. Presented by the American Repertory Theater at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St, Cambridge through October 11.
The A.R.T.s Broadway-bound WARHOLCAPOTE is making its much-anticipated world premiere at the Loeb Center, and while there’s a lot to like about this “non-fiction invention”, it’s really less of a fully developed play and more of a series of outtakes from conversations between the two 20th century icons. Which – considering the colorful nature of the work’s subjects – makes for an entertaining 90 minutes.
Late in his life, Warhol began carrying a small cassette recorder around with him, taping not only his own thoughts (including the prices of cab rides, which are included in text of the play), but conversations with many of his creative and celebrity friends – including Capote. The chats between the celebrity/artist pair were part of the collection of thousands of cassettes archived at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and were not scheduled to be made public until 2037 – as per a posthumous policy adopted by the Andy Warhol Foundation following his death.
But as WBUR’s Andrea Shea lays out in her recent story, Broadway and rock-concert director Rob Roth (who directed the original version of Disney’s Beauty & the Beast as well as concerts for Alice Cooper and Kiss), a huge admirer of Warhol’s, was able to gain access to the tapes, and had them digitized and transcribed by bonded court reporters. He then listened to over 80 hours of conversations between Capote and Warhol, pored over the transcripts, and subsequently developed WARHOLCAPOTE, his first stab at playwriting.
The results are alternately funny and touching (particularly when the men discuss scenes from their difficult childhoods), but much of the play feels like eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers – ones who just happen to be hobnobbing with celebrities during the glory days of Studio 54. There is a surprising lack of depth to many of the discussions, especially given their lofty stature in their respective fields, and the two come off as fairly shallow, to be honest.
For instance, in one of the play’s opening conversations, Capote and Warhol discuss writing a play together – or more accurately – eight plays that would run simultaneously on Broadway. As someone who spent a lot of time in the disco party culture, this line of thinking sounds less like two visionaries seriously discussing their next project than the ramblings of a couple of coked up guys engaging in self-indulgent fantasy. And given that Capote’s troubles with cocaine are pretty well documented (as is Warhol’s abuse of Obetrol – an amphetamine/diet pill similar to Adderall), it’s not that much of a stretch to conclude that may have essentially been the case.
But it’s not all Studio 54 glitz and gossip, and we get some real insight into the lives of these men – both of whom lived fairly tortured lives despite the fame and fortune. Warhol, who didn’t have his first sexual experience until he was 25 – then stopped when he was 26 – unemotionally says, “The most exciting thing is not doing it. If you fall in love with someone and never do it, it’s much more exciting.” And while unrequited love may be great material for love songs, it’s probably not a very good recipe for a fulfilling life, but it’s an affecting moment. Stephen Spinella plays Warhol as an empathic, almost simple, character (in contrast to the bitingly caustic Capote), but he still drops a number of gems, including the prescient, “I think everybody should be photographed and bugged” when describing his love affair with both his art and cassette recorder. Little did he know that that statement would turn out to be more prescient in 2017 than his prediction that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes.
By the time the recordings were made, booze and drugs had Capote (Dan Butler, in a heroic turn as a last minute replacement for Leslie Jordan) pretty firmly in their grip, and he discusses his multiple stints in rehab during the play. His amusingly delusional observation that the staff at the Hazelden addiction treatment center didn’t want him to leave “because I was the most interesting person there,” was both hilarious and sad. Capote provides most of the laughs in this often funny show, many coming from his stories (including one where a man asked him to autograph his penis), but there is always a sense of sadness about the man.
While WARHOLCAPOTE may not be much of a play in the traditional sense, it does provide a glimpse into the later years of two of the brightest stars of 20th century art – and celebrity. For more info, go to: https://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/warholcapote