Critique: The Collaboration on Broadway

Broadway overview by Adam Feldman 

Reviewing a 1985 show of 16 paintings made jointly by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, two of the era’s shiniest art stars, the New York Times critic Vivien Raynor dismissed it as a stunt, accusing Warhol of pulling the public’s leg with assistance from his junior “mascot” and “all as well ready accessory” Basquiat. In a nod to the show’s poster, which winkingly depicted the artists in boxing gloves, she concluded her evaluation so: “Warhol, TKO in 16 rounds.” Both painters would be useless by the conclude of the decade: Warhol from postsurgical troubles in 1987, at the age of 58 Basquiat from a heroin overdose in 1989, at the age of 27. Anthony McCarten’s artsploitation drama The Collaboration throws them back again in the ring in a fictionalized twin portrait that finds them alternately sparring and bonding above the training course of a shared two-yr job. 

McCarten is a New Zealander with a penchant for biographical drama he wrote the screenplays for The Theory of Almost everything, Bohemian Rhapsody and The Two Popes, as nicely as the e-book for recent Neil Diamond musical A Beautiful Sounds. In The Collaboration, the two of his subjects have nicely-outlined personas (or as Warhol may possibly say, brands): Andy is the pale and affectless—not to say artless—weirdo in a white fright wig, bordering himself with outrageous figures as he placidly sells mass-produced industrial tradition again to by itself at a markup Jean is the brash young graffiti artist of Caribbean extraction, lashing out at conference in chaotic, scribbly, cartoonish collages of vivid images and textual content. The participate in imagines what they may possibly have been like driving the masks they fashioned for the general public, but seldom gets far past the surface area. It’s Wikitheater.

The Collaboration | Photograph: Jeremy Daniel

Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, The Collaboration is a time-journey work out (an onstage DJ plays ‘80s hits ahead of every act, to build a period of time bash atmosphere), and it is meant to be a review in contrasts. But the stability is not harmonious. As Warhol, Paul Bettany receives to engage in a piquantly mannered character this Andy—depicted as a borderline-neurodivergent voyeur who has shut himself from the planet immediately after a traumatic brush with death—seems overeager to expound at size on his artistic ideology, but at the very least he’s amusingly bitchy about everybody, together with himself. (His monologue about his nightlife as a social gadfly-butterfly, motivated by Warhol’s vapid diaries, is a highlight.) The playwright and actor give him a hint of sentimentality that contradicts his cynical ennui. 

Basquiat, nevertheless, does not have as considerably to do: He will get significantly less stage time and is drawn with fewer detail. That is not as obvious in the to start with act, when the artists are introduced with each other by Warhol’s Swiss art seller, Bruno (an amiably unctuous Erik Jensen). But in the 2nd half, set two many years later, much of his tale is sent 2nd-hand by a composite ex-girlfriend (Krysta Rodriguez, dressed up like Chrissie Hynde, in an unplayable function), and the participate in appears to be ever additional decided to define Basquiat by his Blackness it even moves the infamous 1983 murder of graffiti artist Michael Stewart by NYPD officers to 1985, therefore delivering an celebration to generate Jean to medicines. And despite the fact that this Basquiat bristles to hear his operate explained as “primal,” the engage in embeds that notion—and arguably normally takes it a step even further into superstitious primitivism—in its very own depiction of Basquiat’s beliefs about his artwork. (“Paintings can have supernatural ability if you imbue them with them,” he suggests. “They’re like… incantations. It’s a ritual, you know. Ancient ritual.”) Pope fills out the character’s generalities with swish movement, flashing a charming smile then skulking with attitude a instant later on, as Andy records him on movie. But the participate in doesn’t deliver him into concentrate. The take care of is in: Warhol, TKO in two acts. 

The Collaboration. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway). By Anthony McCarten. Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah. With Paul Bettany, Jeremy Pope, Erik Jensen, Krysta Rodriguez. Managing time: 2hrs. A single intermission.

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The Collaboration | Photograph: Jeremy Daniel