Voice 4 Vision Puppet Festival
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 12, 2006
Andy Warhol once said, "Art is what you can get away with." Well, Andy got away with a lot, including his greatest creation, himself. Much like the Sex Pistols created the punk rock attitude just by being so punk rock, Warhol was the Pop progenitor of the postmodern attitude just by being so...well, Warhol. I find the postmodern attitude to be fascinating so when I saw that an internationally acclaimed puppet theatre company, Drama of Works, was doing a show exploring the life of Andy Warhol I was all over it. Moreover, so should anyone else interested in Warhol's life, because this production is very imaginative and it makes no pretense of being something more than it is.
For those of you who are unsure of what postmodernism is I'll give you a classic postmodern joke that should shed some light on it, after which I'll give a Warhol quotes that will show his unsubtle postmodern attitude:
A man walks up to a woman holding a baby and says, "That sure is a beautiful baby." And the woman says, "Oh, this is nothing. You should see the pictures."
"People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it's the way things happen to you in life that's unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it's like watching television—you don't feel anything."
- Andy Warhol
Andy was also quoted as saying, "Why should I be original?" Well, luckily the folks in Drama of Works don't hold to the same belief. In their production, Warhol's life is represented by 12 or so boxes that are marked with titles such as "Films '68 to '76" or "Mom's Stuff." Each box holds a small key to understanding Warhol's life and work and each box is opened at some point by the Warhol puppet.
The main character, Warhol, is divided into two representations. One is a small Bunraku puppet operated with grace and gravity by three puppeteers. The other is a man dressed like the other puppeteers, but he never actually touches a puppet. He instead represents some of Warhol's emotions and reactions, he interacts with props in ways the puppet can't and he works as a signpost that lets us know where we are in a story told without any words (other than pre-recorded interview quotes).
There are some parts of Drama of Works' version of the story that are easy to follow, such as the telling of part of Warhol's childhood in which his mother is represented by a large soup can and Andy by a smaller one with his iconic coif glued to it. There are other parts that are more abstract and I didn't always get them. For the most part, I didn't walk away from this production with a greater understanding of Warhol's life. There just isn't enough concrete information given for that to happen. However, I did come to understand one thing about Warhol—all his unoriginality and commercialism is just the face value of a man who actually had much deeper, real (real real as opposed to movie real) feelings about life and society.
The production is simple yet very imaginative. There is little set other than the boxes. The props are handmade, cheap toys or shoes but that matters little because after all it is what you do with what you have available to you. The folks at Drama of Works do a lot with a little and are extremely aware of their theme and style and they never deviate from them. The puppeteers—Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith, John Ardolino, and Amy Carrigan—all do a fantastic job bringing Andy to life. His movements are precise and soulful. David Michael Friend has done a great job in constructing the Andy puppet and I liked the soundscape but I can't tell you who designed it. Probably it was director and production designer Gretchen Van Lente. She does an even-handed job with the production design. Everything from the pace of the show to the props and setting are consistently imaginative and simple.
I liked this production simply because it didn't try to make broad statements about Warhol's life, the meaning of his work, or postmodernism. Much like Andy Warhol, this show is what it is and doesn't really care what we think of it. As a piece of art, it does its job not pretending that we need it but rather acting as if it is something that the creators of it just wanted to give us. I'll take it. Thanks.