Arts Listings

Artist's Preview: "Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews"

by Josh Kornbluth
Thursday April 08, 2010 - 10:50:00 AM

Well, I'm back from Washington D.C., where I had a fabulous time doing the world-premiere run of Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? It wasn't easy balancing a grueling performance schedule with my frequent late-night meetings with Nancy Pelosi, as I helped the Speaker navigate the health-care bill through a bitterly divided House -- but that's a small price to pay for democracy. I also had a chance to visit the National Portrait Gallery, and let me just say this: If how I feel about Millard Fillmore is wrong, then I guess I don't want to be right. 

Now I'm back at home in the Bay Area, chain-drinking Peet's coffee and devouring books with titles like Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition. This is because I have become hopelessly addicted to all things Jewish and Warhol-related. So you can expect that during my upcoming West Coast premiere run of Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? -- beginning previews on Thursday, April 8, at The Jewish Theatre San Francisco, and opening on Sunday evening, April 11 -- there will be some brand-new stuff in the show. In fact, if you happened to catch my presentation of a very early version of this piece at the Contemporary Jewish Museum last year, you can expect to see a significantly transformed show at The Jewish Theatre -- new stories, new structure, and way more Jewishness and Warholocity than ever before.  

But I still have the same fabulous collaborators: director David Dower, designer Alex Nichols, composer Marco d'Ambrosio, and producer Jonny Reinis (with a magical assist from guest dramaturg Mame Hunt). Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles -- and yet I can confidently say that we are all quite neurotic. The result of our combined labors is a theater piece that -- even in its newborn state -- I can tell I will greatly enjoy performing for a long, long time. It gets both quite silly and also very serious, as I grapple at midlife with aspects of my identity, upbringing, and beliefs that I never expected to address, in either my life or my work. 

The story, in brief: In 1980 Andy Warhol -- he of the Campbell's soup cans and the 15 minutes of fame -- presented 10 new portraits of famous 20th-century Jews. These works were received with uncommon vitriol by many critics, but were generally adored on the "synagogue circuit." Thirty years later the Contemporary Jewish Museum (in association with the Jewish Museum of New York) brought them back, in an exhibit that also provided lots of context regarding the portraits' creation and reception. The CJM hired me to do a (for me) brief public presentation offering my initial responses to the exhibit. And now, with Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?, I can tell the full story of the profound and exhilarating effect this experience had (and is still having) on me, a very assimilated American Jew raised by extremely secular (okay, Communist) parents. 

If you do get a chance to see the show, I'd love to get your feedback, as I'm sure this complex piece will continue to evolve. The Jewish Theatre (formerly known as A Traveling Jewish Theatre -- sadly, they rejected my alternative suggestion of "A Sedentary Jewish Theatre") is lovely and intimate, and is within blocks of many fine Mission District tacquerias. Wow, it's so great to be back home -- I hope to see you soon!