“Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ March 7, 2011


Actors Theatre, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

In “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?”, monologist/performer Josh Kornbluth uses the painter’s ten controversial 1980 portraits of famous 20th century Jews as a launching pad for an interesting and amusing look at what it’s like to be Jewish. Kornbluth uses his own experiences of growing up in a Jewish family and his religious reactions to typify his people with honesty, insight, and amazing candor, but with a welcome touch of humor.

The Actors Theatre production isn’t for everybody because the intellectual approach to the subject requires rapt audience attention and analytical thinking about what he says. It’s not a sit back, relax, and laugh event.

Kornbluth is an atheist so he wasn’t actively involved in his community or the practice of his religion. Events later in his life ultimately took him to Temple so much of it involves others reactions to his Jewishness. The play was prompted by a showing of the ten paintings and a call for him to be part of a series of related events at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum. Before he could become engaged with the paintings, he needed to observe them. He relates his differing but also negative opinions the paintings. While Kornbluth acknowledges his negativity, he uses it to place the subjects within differing experiences related to their religion. The portraits were of George Gershwin, Sarah Bernhardt, Martin Buber, the Marx Brothers, Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, Louis Brandeis, Gertrude Stein, Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka.

He uses perceptive insights to the subjects and Warhol’s own discoveries to launch into his often funny impressions that are always insightful into his own background plus his communist father’s reactions to God and religion. More than just his look at his religion, though, Kornbluth teaches about Warhol, a devote Catholic who practiced his religion with fervor.

To give away the play’s revelations would be criminal because his approach should be a discovery of joy when you see “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” Kornbluth isn’t afraid to laugh at and acknowledge widely held clichés about Jews, but he brings a reverence to his religion, its teachings, and his own roots.

As a performer, Kornbluth delivers his play simply without fanfare or bombast. His ideas are what are important and that’s the thrust he and director David Dower give the 90 minute play. Kornbluth is always interesting to watch and his delivery is full of emphasis, passion, while subtle but often pointed mockery keeps attention riveted on Kornbluth.

As always, Actors Theatre brings local audiences different, unique, and interesting theater. “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” fits that bill. It continues through March 20. For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or order tickets online at www.actorstheatrephx.org.

Grade: B