Bated Breath’s ‘Chasing Andy Warhol’ takes an immersive walk around NYC’s East Village inspired by the Pop icon

The latest street tour presentation by Bated Breath Theatre Company, following its award-winning production of Voyeur: The Windows of Toulouse-Lautrec, is Chasing Andy Warhol, an immersive guided walk, with stops along the way for short vignettes inspired by the iconic Pop artist, performed at various locations around the East Village, from Astor Place to Bleecker Street. The conceptual piece employs a mix of theater, dance, puppetry, art, and film to survey familiar points in the life, work, and rampant criticism of one of the most famous, prescient, and influential artists of the 20th century, without offering any new information or insights.

Jmonet Hill and Jake Malavsky. Photo by Deb Miller.

Created and directed by Mara Lieberman, the show, performed by a rotating cast, is framed in the device of a flight on Pop Air, on which the passenger Jess (played by Jmonet Hill on the date I attended) falls asleep while reading a book about Andy Warhol (1928-87), who suddenly appears to her (portrayed in that performance by Jake Malavsky). The flight crashes, he runs off, and the remainder of the time is spent following her following him through a quick sequence of key episodes.

Those range from his childhood passion for movie stars and his affliction with St. Vitus’s Dance, through school, his first gay love, and his early work in commercial design, to his meteoric rise as a progenitor of Pop art and the Superstars who populated his legendary Factory. It concludes with him being shot and nearly killed by one of them, undergoing life-saving surgery, and returning to his international celebrity status as an unsurpassed creator and recorder of popular culture (whose 1964 Shot Sage Blue Marilyn silkscreen portrait of Marilyn Monroe is expected to bring in a sale price of $200 million at Christie’s upcoming auction in May – its highest ever for a 20th-century work).

Along with presenting the well-known and widely cited biographical facts, the show stresses the commonplace contradiction of the “enigma” of Andy and his art, and the vicious assessments of his detractors, calling him a “user,’ “an affront to good taste,” and “a joke with no punchline” for which “we are the punchline.” Again, it’s nothing we haven’t all heard before, and though the character of Jess professes that she’s Warhol’s #1 fan, there’s nothing in the show that defines what makes him and his art so appealing and legendary – so allow me.

Jake Malavsky. Photo by Deb Miller.

Andy’s work signaled the end of modern art and the beginning of the post-modern period, with its change from non-objective self-expressive abstraction to the popular subjects, objects, and themes that everyone could relate to and recognize. He had the unsurpassed ability to zero-in (without the benefit of historical hindsight) on what characterized our culture, and to capture it for posterity, using the latest techniques and technology. In essence, his Pop art is a brilliantly perceptive visual history of what New York was in the Sixties and how it will be remembered. No mystery there, and nothing warranting critical attack. He also had the uncanny ability to foresee that “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” The future is now, and Andy was right (with the advent of social media and reality TV). These number among the many momentous reasons why he’s still attracting record prices and why audiences are still coming to a theatrical event about him.

There are witty references throughout the show to Warhol’s iconic images, including the opening plane crash, an actor holding up an empty picture frame centered on a view of the actual Empire State Building, Campbell’s soup cans stacked in a window, the back of a food stand painted to look like a work from the later Oxidation series, and the use of repetition, with a fresh-cut bouquet recalling his multiple silkscreens of Flowers and three actors simultaneously appearing as Andy in his signature silver wigs and sunglasses. But the overall artistic design (with choreography by Rachel Leigh Dolan and featured choreography by Rachelle Rak; costumes by Christopher F. Metzger; set design by Christian Fleming, Meg McGuigan, and Jerry Schiffer; sound and projection by Mark Van Hare; lighting by Joyce Liao; puppetry by Evolve Puppets; and Tara O’Con serving as Experiential Design Consultant) offers but a scrappy superficial version of the look and style of the period.

Members of the cast. Photo by Deb Miller.

And the cast (the complete ensemble, in addition to Hill and Malavsky, features Mitchell Ashe, Kat Berton, Grayson Bradshaw, Mariah Busk, Alysa Finnegan, Teal French-Levine, Youran Lee, Taylor McKenzie, Marisa Melito, Kayla Prestel, Brandon P. Raines, Annika Rudolph, Alessandra Ruiz, Antonia Santangelo, Kyle Starling, Fé Torres, Luca Villa, and Katherine Winter) generally fails to deliver the authentic voices and demeanors of the real-life figures (the Andy I knew was much more soft-spoken and less physically aggressive than portrayed, and Edie had a very distinctive accent and bearing that are absent from her characterization here), which are preserved and readily accessible in countless photos, films, and interviews.

While Bated Breath’s interest in exploring the life and art of Andy Warhol is commendable, Chasing Andy Warhol doesn’t accurately capture, or offer any further enlightenment about, who he was, the significance of his art, or why his fame is never-ending.

Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.

Chasing Andy Warhol plays Sundays through August 21, 2022, at Bated Breath Theatre Company, performing at Astor Place and locations through the East Village, NYC. For tickets (priced at $80), go online. Be prepared to scan and to sign an online waiver upon arrival. Everyone must also present a photo ID and proof of vaccination. Masks are not required for outdoors but are encouraged for the indoor portion of the show.



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