White Rhino Report: The A.R.T. Breaks New Ground With The Dazzling "WARHOLCAPOTE" - A Non-fiction Invention

Publication date: 
September 25, 2017
Al Chase

In much the same way that Truman Capote essentially created a new literary form with his non-fiction novel "In Cold Blood," so also has Rob Roth (Directed "Beauty and the Beast") crafted something new in "WARHOLCAPOTE," a play that he calls "A Non-Fiction Invention."  Mr. Roth spent the past decade sorting through, and having transcribed, eighty hours of recordings that Andy Warhol had made of his conversations with Truman Capote. Warhol used a Sony Walkman, that he dubbed "my wife." The two men had agreed to collaborate on writing a play that would blur the lines between art and reality. That play was never written, but Mr. Roth has artfully assembled the actual words shared between Capote and Warhol, and formed them into five imagined conversations that make up the structure of this play. The result is a fascinating and illuminating psychological study of these two idiosyncratic geniuses.

To portray these two very distinctive and recognizable personas, Director Michael Mayer (Tony Award for "Spring Awakening") has cast Stephen Spinella as Warhol and Dan Butler as Capote. Each actor is spectacularly successful in conveying the quirky essence of each artist. Mr. Butler returns to A.R.T. after appearing as George Wallace in "All The Way." Mr. Spinella has won Tony Awards for his role in "Angels In America."

The beginning of their relationship took a while to gain traction. As a fan of Capote, Warhol wrote and called the author continuously, to the point where Capote felt as if he were being stalked. He dismissed the young artist as someone with no substance and no future. It was only after Warhol had earned his own degree of notoriety that they began to develop a friendship on equal footing. Both men were fascinated with celebrity and celebrities, so much of their conversation has a gossipping feel to it. We learn things about Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Humphrey Bogart that are titillating. The play is funny and sobering. At one point, Capote offers a ribald account of an encounter with a couple of autograph seekers in Key West that still has me chuckling.

As gay men, Capote and Warhol represented the yin and the yang of sexual expression. Truman was unabashedly and proudly promiscuous and profligate in his sex life. Warhol was repressed and anhedonic; he told Capote that he had his first sexual experience at age 25, and his last at 26. Capote's alcoholism is a thread that runs throughout this play, including his account of his time spent drying out at a spa where he was the most famous and most interesting resident. "They didn't want me to leave." One of the most moving scenes is one in which Truman becomes unhinged in trying to make Andy understand his haunting mania - "the Ferrari in my brain" that refuses to stop revving its engine. Their musing on the nature of art is illuminating.

This play is an extraordinary invention that depicts an unusual friendship between two of the great figures of pop culture of the 20th century. Mr. Roth has done an exceptional job in gleaning from the eighty hours of conversation the most compelling snippets. And Mr. Spinella and Mr. Butler recreate these two men in indelible images and sound bites that still echo in my mind 24 hours after leaving the theater. These two lonely men served as sounding boards for one another, and the resulting reverberations that come to us are fascinating and disturbing - unresolved dissonant chords.
The Set Design by Stanley A. Meyer is simple and elegant, suggestive of the miles of magnetic tape that Mr. Roth listened to in order to distill the nectar of this play. Costumes are by Clint Ramos. Lighting Design is by Kevin Adams. Sound Design by John Gromada, and Projections by Darrel Maloney.

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