The irreverent monologist Josh Kornbluth brings ten righteous people to his minion. His new show Andy Warhol: Good For The Jews? is a prayer service gathering the faces of Jews who have had a lasting impact on society, the same faces Warhol used for his controversial 1980 screen print series Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century.
Kornbluth did not like the original Modern Art Museum exhibit and, always the kvetching loudmouth, he wanted to Jewify Warhol and put a yarmulke over his platinum Dynel wig. Denying any Semitic aversions, Warhol insisted he just liked the faces. The Museum commissioned Josh to write about his dislike of the series. His monologue explains his viewpoint of this work and how he opened himself up to Andy’s vision.
When he got the commission, Kornbluth professionally researched the artist and found himself revising his initial opinion. As though in a lecture hall with projected images on two rows of five panels, he gives a lesson about the Polish immigrant Andy Warholia. His enthusiasm for what he learned is infectious and non-stop, except when he has to pause for the laughter to die down. More significantly, we see how he grudgingly came to appreciate the artist’s work.
Kornbluth’s nebbishy, simple but stage-worthy performance intensely holds audience attention as he tells how Andy came to America with his mother, had his name changed, got his talent recognized, moved to New York, and went into a commercial art career. He also discusses the soup cans.
Josh reveals many fascinating details of Warhol’s family life and artistic innovations. He talks about the artist without reference to such incidents as Studio 54, The Factory and The Velvet Underground. His roundabout reasoning is as desultory as his monologue, but he weaves the threads of his thoughts into a coherent image. In the end he decides, “Andy Warhol is going to be good for this Jew.”
In his vividly colored shirt, Kornbluth uses only three and one-half positions on stage (He occasionally turns his back to the audience so he can look at the projections.) and very little physical motion, but his enthusiastic round face with round eyeglasses projects a passion for his subject matter. His sometimes comic delivery of the lines he wrote is sincere and appealing. While never directly addressing the subject of why he disliked the museum exhibition, he lets us know that it offended him, at first.
He questions why these particular Jews were chosen and gives their backgrounds. He is personally engaging while he expresses his intellectual interest in the histories of such people as Franz Kafka, Sarah Bernhardt, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Gertrude Stein, and The Marx Brothers. He quibbles that including the three Marx brothers makes the collection more than ten, the required quorum for a minion, but accepts it as “a baker’s minion.” He even clarifies Stein’s remark about Oakland.
Josh is warmly appealing on stage and is fun to watch. In recollecting his own background, he flatly states that he was “raised an orthodox communist.” His conversational style, although one-sided, is comforting and entertaining. An avowed atheist, he gratuitously includes a story of how he stopped a bridge suicide by insisting that he was sent by God. Thankfully, he only mentions in passing — too many times — his communist politics and does not beat us over the head with socialist cant. The intellectual thrust of his tale of discovery is as well-structured as a classroom presentation by an entertaining professor.
Andy Warhol: Good For The Jews? plays through June 20 at The Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco. Tickets ($20 to $45) are available online at www.tjt-sf.org or by phone at 415.292.1233.