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  • Nicole Garvin

When you like the play but.....

The Collaboration By Anthony McCarten, Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, with Paul Bettany, Jeremy Pope, Krysta Rodriguez, and Erik Jensen. Set in the summer of 1984 takes you through the collaboration between two powerhouses - Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat for their exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1985.

However, if you're an art historian or know an art historian, don't go for historical accuracy. Just experience the play for the impressive acting of Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope! While the play makes it seem like these two art world megastars navigated around each other as distant acquaintances, they have a well-known history of "knowing" each other! Basquiat was a subject of a 1982 artwork in Warhol's oxidation series.

Bettany's representation of Warhol's mannerisms and look are almost spot on. Pope's performance is impressive as well. Jenson as Bruno is a welcomed intermediary character that could've had more of a role in providing accurate context. Rodriguez's character of Maya who we might assume is meant to represent Basquiat's on-and-off girlfriend at the time Suzanne, provides a good performance. However, her role mainly serves as a mode to deliver the message of a friend's murder by the NYPD in 1983 (not chronologically in line with the play), and for some reason consistently reminds us of Basquiat's sexual dalliances. That is after Warhol brings up Basquiat's possible sexual relationship with Madonna repeatedly.

There's an antagonist aura that too often seeps from Warhol though it is well documented that Warhol was an ally and a fan of Basquiat. This was especially prevalent in the scenes in Act II that involve the murder of Michael Stewart in 1983. There's a conflict between the two that did not seem like it would have happened given that Warhol expressed deep empathy regarding that tragedy and created artworks in remembrance of Stewart's murder.

Basquiat is presented, by no fault of Pope, like he doesn't know how to handle his success. Yes, Basquiat didn't trust banks and did drugs but if we learned anything from the King Pleasure exhibition designed by his family, he was so much more than that. Any interview that you see of Basquiat during this collaboration shows a young black man, who spoke 3-4 languages, who was professional, well-spoken, as well as aware of the art market, his importance, the importance of Warhol, and his role in the overall context of art history.

With all of the available first-person sources surrounding the Warhol-Basquiat collaboration, such as video interviews, written interviews, and photos, we wondered why take artistic liberties with things that are easy to discern. We don't know what was said every moment that they were together and that would provide more than enough room for any artistic liberties one could need.

The Collaboration should say it is a play inspired by the collaboration between Warhol and Basquiat from 1984-1985, which culminated in an exhibition of 16 artworks shown at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1985. This play takes place during the summer of 1984 and is McCarten’s interpretation of possible intimate moments between two of the art world's biggest and brightest stars.

By Nicole Garvin

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