Theater: Theater J, 1529 16th Street NW
Metro Stops: Dupont Circle – Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line. Directions here.
Genre: Daddy's little monologue
Cost: All tickets are half price for people 35 and under (and the Sunday shows are only $30 to begin with). Anyone can get half price tickets before with promo code WARHOL. Also goldstar has tickets starting at $15.
Rating: 2/5 Starving Artists
When Josh Kornbluth takes the stage at the beginning of Andy Worhol: Good for the Jews? at Theater J, he begins by saying "I don't get it". I left this world premiere saying the same thing. Well… maybe that's not entirely true. I think I got it. I'm just not sure why he thought I needed to see it.
Kornbluth's monologue tells the story of how he was asked to write a monologue responding to Andy Worhol's controversial Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century when the paintings were on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Yes, it's a monologue about writing a monologue. Deep, I know.
My primary concern with the play was that the whole thing felt a lot more like a drash than theater. A drash, for those who don't know, is a Hebrew term for a short sermon, most often about the bible. A drash usually attempts to relate the biblical themes to modern life. It would seem as if Kornbluth set to utilize this structure to relate his own life to Warhol's Jews (and in this, I quickly learned, I have almost no interest). For eighty minutes, Kornbluth goes portrait by portrait, using each as a jumping off point to talk about seemingly random parts of his life.
Well, not entirely random. He tells us in the beginning that he was surprised to be asked to do a play about Andy Warhol because his work has a "very specific niche": talking about his relationship with his communist father. The rest of the play seems like an unabashed attempt to make sure that this play is no exception. The result make the work feel a little… strained. Some of the connections he draws seem surprisingly natural, like his discussion about how his grandparent's wanted their son to grow up to be the next Louis Brandeis, and how this was a major part of the reason them finding his father to be such a disappointment. But others seem forced to the brink of absurdity. A few (most notably Sigmond Freud) were too difficult to even attempt, so he gives them only a passing reference and hopes we won't notice. And so, in the story that he weaves, threads are picked up and dropped at random, with no regard for a larger aesthetic. It creates a tapestry that is less than beautiful.
All of this might be forgivable, if the performer were a particularly compelling storyteller. Unfortunately, he does not deliver in this regard either. He is a notably nebbishe presenter. He stands awkwardly on stage, playing with his fingers and giggling at his own jokes, and then he turns to saunter to another part of the stage to stand awkwardly there for a bit. The play seems well written, there were a few thoughtfully worded jokes and comparisons, but delivered in a sort of improv/storyteller format that could be charming but isn't. I think, perhaps, that this play would be more interesting if I was familiar with Kornbluth's work. It seems like the "Kornbluth doing Kornbluth doing Warhol" might have a certain kind of appeal to a "very specific niche" audience, but it was lost on me. Maybe this is a lot like Warhol; I've always felt like his work was particularly interesting in light of his other work.
All of this contributes to a play that is decidedly unmemorable. It was not in any way offensive. I didn't need my time back. I just didn't think much of it. At the end of it, as I looked back on the title, I thought, "is Andy Warhol good for the Jews?" And I had to answer, "Who cares?" Josh Kornbluth didn't seem to care much. He spent almost no time trying to answer this question. So why should I? I think Andy Warhol's Jewish portraits had as much impact on the Jewish people as Josh Konbluth's play had on me: Little, if any.