Grabbing the spotlight

Famous for Fifteen Years

By Jamie Pachino
Directed by Tim Errickson
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
Jan Hus Playhouse
351 East 74th St. (212/560-2241)
Equity showcase (closes Apr. 5)
Review by Elias Stimac

The title of Famous for Fifteen Years is an obvious reference to Andy Warhol's comment that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Likewise, this memory play by Jamie Pachino borrows liberally from the Warhol legend and the group of creative conspirators that surrounded him throughout his career. Unfortunately, Warhol is gone, and his counterpart in the play is dead as well -- which is a shame, because the plot could use a character like him to boost the excitement and energy level.

Billy Harlow is the artist in the fictionalized version, and he has been stabbed to death. Near the end of the play one of his female followers takes credit for the dirty deed, but it's more to get publicity than to confess to murder. (This plot point also echoes the storyline behind Chicago.) Left to ponder his greatness -- and recall the early days 15 years before when they were the "in" crowd -- are a half-dozen would-be artists and performers. They have hip names like Venus Envy, Holly Grail, Ursula DuPres, Sonny Vale, and Mustang. They banter and bicker amongst themselves about who is better known (the worst name they can call one another is "a nobody!"). They seize any chance to be in front of news cameras and on talk-show circuits. Mostly they miss Billy, the sparkplug who, along with the drugs and alcohol they consumed, kept their spirits high -- and kept them in the spotlight.

Pachino's script is composed of short vignettes punctuated by even shorter video sequences, mostly scenes outside Billy's funeral. Other than the omission of the "talked-about but never seen" major character, the playwright hits most of the right notes, evoking a longing for simpler times when discussing art and music was a common pastime.

Director Tim Errickson staged the action well, playing up the comic interplay between the actors whenever possible. He also worked well with cinematographer Whitney Hamilton to simulate the newscasts on the prominent video screens.

The onstage performers were all first-rate. Christine Verleny (Venus), Karen Sternberg (Holly), Jane Courtney (Ursula), and Adria Woomer (Sonny) swooned and sniped, reflected and retorted with a perfect feel for both the hippie days of 1969 and the cleaned-up times in 1984. Humorous turns were also contributed by Postell Pringle as a nonchalant drug dealer, Tara Kenavan as a put-upon friend of the group, and Betsy Feldman as none other than Barbara Walters.

Video actors and actresses garnered their share of laughs as well, including Philip J. Emeott, Jennifer Larkin, Jordan Meadows, Sarah Sutel, Linda Hetrick, Denise Verrico, Donovan Johnson IV, Laura Siner, Brad Fryman, Roland Johnson, Ian Pfister, Eric Parness, Scot Carlisle, Mac Brydon, Jarel Davidow, Josephine Cashman, William Laney, and Kate Ross.

Costumes, by James E. Crochet, cleverly defined each era, and Matt Burton's sound design was also well-executed. One of the highlights of the production was the artistic set and lighting designs of Scot Carlisle. His recreations of Warhol-inspired portraits and abstract platform pieces literally and figuratively brought lots of color to the proceedings.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2003 Elias Stimac