Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Andy Warhol in Iran
Warhol faces his audience and explains that public speaking is far from his strength and he would much prefer to observe, as are the current theater patrons. He goes on for quite some time, musing about art and movies, his decision to begin painting again after a hiatus, a possible girlfriend, and onto another supportive friend who urged him to begin portraiture anew. This beginning passage is lengthy and meandering. Finally, he lets us in on his purpose: to snap some Polaroid photographs of Empress Farah Pahlavi (The Shah of Iran's wife) as the basis for a subsequent portrait. Henry Stram, as Warhol, is simultaneously congenial and persuasive; his performance throughout the 85-minute show is seamless.
There's a knock on the door and a Persian man, Farhad (Nima Rakhshanifar) enters, wearing something like a uniform of a bell hop. They converse a bit and a threatening Farhad aims a pistol directly at Warhol. Farhad's arrival establishes both focus and tension. What follows is not entirely predictable.
Andy Warhol actually did make the journey to Iran in 1976. Playwright Askari, commissioned by Barrington Stage to write this script, takes it from there. The author structures the piece with precise symmetry as the plot evolves. Director Skip Greer effectively coaches his actors whether they exchange dialogue or, as is often the case for Warhol, deliver extended solo passages. Sometimes it may seem that Warhol is so comfortable that he might as well be in his living room as he expounds.
Stram establishes his Warhol well before Rakhshanifar and his character appear. This Andy Warhol is both friendly and somewhat insecure. Farhad deems himself an Iranian revolutionary whose task it is to kidnap Warhol. The end goal of the group, whom Farhad represents, would be to force the Shah out of office.
The men address wealth, America, Warhol's artistic self, danger, and much more. Well into the play, a Farhad section begins with a flower symbolizing justice, and the metaphor is expanded to a garden. This piece of writing is lovely and poetic. Other portions of dialogue are lighter, more comic, and they fuel balance within the context of drama.
Versatile, talented Henry Stram directed the BSC production of Eleanor last summer. He has multiple performance credits on and off Broadway as well, and has made many film and television appearances. Stram obviously pays great attention to detail and is also a very natural actor who is completely at ease on stage. Rakhshanifar, also excellent, is described, through program notes, as "an Iranian-American actor, singer and musician." He's taken roles with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and elsewhere. These different types of men establish varied rhythms according to Askari's text, and Greer's direction keeps it all moving forward.
The play is lively and winning. That said, it's a new work and the playwright might find moments he wishes to adjust or edit or modify. Right now, it's catchy, atypical theater.
Andy Warhol in Iran runs through June 25, 2022, at Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage, 51 Linden St., Pittsfield MA. For tickets and information, call 413-236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.