Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes of Fame

The expansive nature of this ambitious stage production proves to be its greatest weakness.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]

Noel Anderson is a brave writer/director. Though elements of Andy Warhol’s story have universal resonance, it remains quintessentially American. Anderson is to be commended for not only thumbing his nose at the convention that Australian playwrights must tell local stories, but also for taking on a subject as vast as Warhol.

It is, however, the expansive nature of his subject that proves Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes of Fame’s major weakness and the reason it is only partially successful.

There is a lot to like about this work. Especially Josh Futcher’s Andy Warhol. Painted in absurd white face make up, Futcher is compelling from the outset. His performance – his mannerisms, accent and capacity to bring to life Warhol’s peculiar, childlike view of art and existence – is the highlight of the play.

Despite some use of backtracking, some parallel scenes and dialogue, the play remains largely chronological. It traces Warhol’s upbringing in Pittsburgh in the 1930s and ‘40s, his period as a struggling graphic artist in New York, then his breakthrough success as a fine artist and the establishment of the famous Factory. This approach is reasonable in itself, but leads to issues that make the play drag.

While the character of Andy’s mother Missi, played convincingly by Uschi Felix, is important, we receive more background about her than necessary. We also delve into her life and motivations, but without the necessary pay-offs to accompany her character development. We also receive too much background about Andy’s would-be assassin, the misandrist Valerie Solanas. And, trying to avoid a spoiler, for those whose Warhol knowledge is limited, you could be forgiven after this play for thinking his life ended in very different circumstances than it did.

There is a sustained effort to parallel Solanas’s life with Warhol’s. It is done mainly through portraying their contrasting relationships with their primary carers. But Anderson also shows them as, essentially, a pair of social outcasts, almost doomed to become enmeshed. These parallel portrayals and the characters’ eventual relationship (plutonic – did Warhol have any other kind?) provide the play’s narrative drive. At the same time, however, we track Warhol’s vast impact on art and American (world) society. The play, as result, becomes a little thick around the middle. In addition, although Solanas’s character is developed – and although she provides significant action late in the play – her final use as a character seems to be to label Warhol a selfish, using prat. But that judgment, if appropriate, would perhaps have been better left to the audience.

The performances are terrific. There were some opening night stutters and confused accents, but that will no doubt smooth out. Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes of Fame is at its best when Josh Futcher’s Warhol is one-on-one with another character: his mother, a gay ‘lover’ (brilliantly played by Jacob Antolini), Solanas (for the most part convincingly portrayed by Kate Mulqueen) and a waitress (another strong performance, this time from Kathy Lepan-Walker). These scenes are sharply rendered, have strong dialogue, often hilarious interplay and offer Anderson’s best insights into Warhol’s wide-eyed, Polaroid camera view of people and reality.

These scenes show what the play could have been if it had tried to do a bit less and taken a tighter focus on Warhol. Anderson could have either taken out much of the Valerie Solanas narrative or made the play much more about Solanos and Warhol, and less of a Warhol biopic. Either approach would have been more appropriate for a venue the size of La Mama Courthouse, and the budget (hmmm, that blood just didn’t look bloody) with which Anderson and Co. had to work. Warhol deserves a bigger stage; his story is so multi-faceted and intriguing. But Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes of Fame, paradoxically, needed to better come to grips with the limitations of its staging and be scripted to suit.

For anyone interested in Warhol, even slightly, Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes of Fame is a good introduction to his life and work. The performances are strong and Josh Futcher’s Warhol is worth the admission price. But my sense of the play’s strength is perhaps best summed up by the fact that, after seeing it, I wanted to dig up my cassette copy of Songs for Drella, Velvet Underground members’ Lou Reed and John Cale’s tribute album to Warhol.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes of Fame

Writer/Director: Noel Anderson

Set Design: John Wonnocott

Sound Design and Original Music: Natasha Moszenin

Lighting Design: Callum Robertson

Costume Design: Mia Nissa Tegan Robinson

Stage Manager: Kylie Russell

Lighting Operator: Rachel Patterson

Starring: Josh Futcher, Uschi Felix, Kate Mulqueen and Jacob Antolini

La Mama Courthouse, Carlton

Midsumma Festival

13 January – 3 February
Francis Roberts
About the Author
Francis Roberts is a reviewer for ArtsHub.