Canned laughter

Andy Warhol's Secret Girlfriend

By Richard Lay
Directed by Frank Calo
Sage Theatre Company
The Abingdon Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Andrew Eggert

The Sage Theatre Company's production of Andy Warhol's Secret Girlfriend can only be compared to visual art by Warhol himself - simple, confrontational, humorous, and full of modern iconography, while lacking the depth and subtlety of more traditional art forms. After all, Pop Art attempts to make impersonality a style, deliberately presenting its subjects as a collage of mass-marketed images and thereby asking the viewer to address modernity's effect on our popular culture. But in applying these same aesthetic tenets to the live theatre, Lay offers a disappointingly fragmented dramatic structure built around cartoonish characters that, although droll on the surface, are ultimately unable to inform or enlighten.

The action traces Brooklynite Rosie Finkelkrantz, a hanger-counter in the garment district with a dream-come-true obsession for Andy Warhol. After their first meeting in a subway car, a loan of $5 leads to dinner for two at a Surf 'N' Turf. Rosie becomes increasingly enchanted by the glamour of Warhol's high-brow lifestyle, while Warhol finds in Rosie the chance to have the one thing money can no longer buy him: a normal life. But their love is soon complicated by Rosie's ex-boyfriend, a housepainter named Boris Sullivan, and one of Warhol's many Manhattan followers, a mega-wealthy Park Avenue type, Gilda Knickerbocker.

Characters tackle issues of love, desire, and greed, but do so with an assault of clichéd situations and phrases. Even the comedy provided by the absurdity of the premise wears thin early in the evening, leaving a hollow basis for all ensuing conflict and predictable resolution.

Despite an inherently limited script, Sage's streamlined staging under the direction of Frank Calo kept the action moving and capitalized on the lovable nature of the principal characters. Jean Colvin brought a genuine smile to the star-struck Rosie and performed her many soliloquies with comfortable ease. Julie Zimmermann's portrayal of Gilda echoed the hyper-energy of a society dame as epitomized by Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame, while Thomas Moynahan brought focused simplicity to Boris.

But David Dotterer was unparalleled among the company in his representation of Andy Warhol. Every aspect of his interpretation evoked the blurred world of the Pop artist: he spoke with an affected inflection, moved with conscious grace, and captured a glassy and somewhat-removed gaze in his eyes.

The production paid careful attention to visual elements of staging, using touches of bright cloth to evoke disparate settings from the same simple set pieces while keeping abstract unity through an ever-present print of a Warhol soup can upstage. Jason Marin's lighting design also made careful use of limited resources, establishing the bright glitz of the Upper East Side one moment and the grime of a Village nightclub the next. Julie Zimmermann's costume design gets first prize for its amazingly bright and well-coordinated colors. The wardrobe's camp and kitsch would have impressed even Warhol himself. This eye-candy was a pleasure to watch in its kaleidoscopic combinations.

While the production proved a pleasure to watch, it never moved beyond the mere splash and sensationalism of Pop Art itself. For a fleeting 15 minutes of fame, there's validity to such iconization - but taken alone, it could not provide the complex material necessary for a two-hour script.

Also featuring Brandon Laurino, Tedd Merritt, and Eric R. Moreland.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1998 Andrew Eggert