2019 Fringe Festival Review: Warhol: Bullet Karma

Photo courtesy of the Adelaide Fringe

Who: Presented by Anna Thomas

When: Until 10/3/19

Where: The Cabinet Room at Treasury 1860

How much: $25

Are artists allowed to be bad people? Does the genius of their art justify the unusual, inexplicable, or just plain cruel things they do? What happens when we find out our artistic idols aren’t models of moral behavior? In the #MeToo era, popular culture has begun reckoning with these questions. These are the questions toyed with at the heart at Warhol: Bullet Karma, Garry Roost’s intimate one-man show that shines a light on Andy Warhol’s life through the moment he was shot by Valerie Solanas.

It’s not easy for a single actor to carry a show like this, but Roost does a fine job. He’s a wonderfully convincing Warhol, all nervous energy and charming arrogance. This show isn’t just about the artist himself, however. Roost portrays a colourful cast of figures surrounding Warhol and the Factory. He fluidly shifts between characters with considerable skill, and although at first it was somewhat difficult to tell when each character ended and began, it didn’t take long to pick up on the props used to signal each change. His Solanas is bitter and spiteful; his Francis Bacon is hilariously pompous. Although brief, Roost’s portrayal of the vulnerable, tormented Edie Sedgwick was one of the highlights of the one-man cast.

Roost’s raw acting skill carried the show through, but the play’s narrative structure was considerably weaker. Though it was framed by Solanas’ shooting, the central bulk of the play was a whirlwind tour through various episodes in Warhol’s life. It was often difficult to tell how each moment in time related to the next, and as a result the narrative could feel disjointed. I understand the author may have been shooting for a stream of recollections, but I think it could have been made easier to follow.

Regardless, the show still raised some fascinating questions about the culpability of the artist. ‘I guess I could have been a nicer guy…Sure, I was tough on people in the Factory’, Warhol muses, reflecting on how he treated the stars and wannabes that surrounded him. ‘I wasn’t a bad person… I was an artist. It was my indulgence.’ The show deliberately leaves it unclear whether we should accept Warhol’s defense. ‘Was it bullet karma?’ he asks us. Did he deserve to be shot by Solanas by treating her badly, by making a joke of her? Or was she just an unstable psycho driven by vanity and pride?

For me, I felt Roost’s Warhol’s defenses rang hollow, his justifications sounding thin and unconvincing, even as I sympathized with him. Others may feel different. If you’re a fan of Warhol, see this one and answer the question for yourself.

3/5 stars

Tamika Glouftsis

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