In Brief: ‘Culture of Desire’

Dante, Poverino, is getting the shaft these days. The 92nd Street Y has a stage adaptation of Robert Pinsky’s version of the Inferno that “diverges from the common … Christian allegory … greatly influenced by Pinsky’s Orthodox Jewish upbringing and … the Talmud. The result is a work that is accessible to persons of all faiths and walks of life.” To think that this hitherto arcane poem is at long last accessible to Muslims and Buddhists, subway brakemen and aerobics instructors!

Meanwhile, at the New York Theatre Workshop, Anne Bogart offers Culture of Desire, which she conceived and directed, in collaboration with seven players of the SITI company, founded by herself and Tadashi Suzuki. Two pages of the program chart the progress of Western culture from The Divine Comedy to Culture of Desire, whose hero is Andy Warhol, the missing link between Dante and Bogart.

In an upstate Kmart, Miss B. had an epiphany: We live in a culture of consumerism, whose emblem is Warhol, and whose paradigmatic parable is Dante’s Inferno. So she devised this piece in which Andy runs around an American hell, guided by the new Virgil, Diana Vreeland, and meets such archetypes as Elvis, Marilyn, Edie Sedgwick, Ultra Violet, and Henry Geldzahler. None of them is clearly identified, but the mishmash that passes for dialogue seems culled from their dicta and other snippets.

Dante’s contribution is the most modest: the opening verses of the Inferno on a loudspeaker, and a smidgen of the Paolo-Francesca episode rattled off by a Japanese performer in barely virtual English. Lengthy analyses of Warhol’s works must stem from Geldzahler, demonstrating the tenuous boundary between current art criticism and a parody thereof. Warhol is played by a woman, Vreeland by a man, which may be the most minimalist of gender bendings.

Neil Patel’s set consists of a backdrop of a William Blake illustration, blown up and multiplied à la Warhol, and of four giant metal carts on casters, featuring 64 large cardboard boxes such as Andy collected stuff in, and from which stuff is periodically extracted. The soundtrack is a compendium of pop songs and big bangs, labeled “Noize by Darron L. West.” The Bogart staging comprises aimless racing around, occasional pratfalls, clamberings atop the huge carts or into smaller shopping carts lustily whirled about. The text is on the order of “What are you looking at? Are you deriving pleasure from it? And if so, why?” or “What I’m saying, that’s for you to figure out” or “Are you human?,” which is answered, “No.”

In Brief: ‘Culture of Desire’