Andy Warhol in Iran
Hamid Dehghani as Farhad in Northlight Theatre's production of “Andy Warhol in Iran.”

Brent Askari's “Andy Warhol in Iran” artfully combines fact and fiction to create an 80-minute one act that's both educational and entertaining, and Northlight Theatre's production directed by artistic director BJ Jones is everything it should be.

At first, it seems like the two-character play, which was commissioned by the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, and had its world premiere there last year, might be problematic. The audience has to know something about pop art icon Andy Warhol (1928-1987) to appreciate the premise, and that's not a given nowadays, even if he was the most famous artist of his time.

So Askari risks tackling the exposition head on. Andy Warhol (Rob Lindley) enters from the audience and begins filling us in on his background and reason for visiting Iran even before he steps foot on Todd Rosenthal's impeccable set of his lux hotel room at the Royal Tehran Hilton. The year is 1976, and having reinvented himself as a portrait painter of the rich and famous, he's been invited to take preliminary Polaroids of the Shah of Iran's wife, Farah Pahlavi.

Warhol also treats us to a mini tutorial on his art (from Campbell's soup cans to a five-and-a-half-hour film of someone sleeping), the Factory, “Interview” magazine and his famous and infamous friends such as Edie Sedgwick. Projections by Mike Tutaj on screens above the stage bring everything to life.

Lindley does the same for Warhol himself, with his effete voice and mannerisms and quirky habits like fussing with his white wig (wigs and make-up by Natalia Castilla). As he relishes ordering caviar from room service for $10 and touts the virtues of commerce and making money (or “bringing home the bacon” as he calls it), we get a sense of the deliberately outrageous persona he's created.

Before Warhol can wear out his welcome, the fictional part of his account gets underway with the arrival of Farhad (Hamid Dehghani). Pretending to be a bellboy wheeling a caviar cart, he pulls a gun and threatens to shoot Andy. He's a revolutionary, and he “and his people” are planning to protest the Shah's regime by kidnapping the famous artist, who represents all that is decadent.

Tutaj's excellent projections trace the history of Iran, not just to 1976, but through the revolution three years later and right up until the current women-led protests. They, along with Farhad's commentary (Dehghani is excellent), are an eye-opening look at the power of capitalism and corruption plus the perils of regime change.

But what happens on the micro level of two men in one room is a different—and far more hopeful—story. Warhol is terrified of being shot in the wake of a 1968 assassination attempt by radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas, and he and Farhad bond over their physically painful experiences. Although he professes to be non-political, the artist also is curious about his would-be kidnapper's life and, as the details unfold, shows himself to be more of a humanitarian than we might expect.

In a rather charming plot twist, Warhol finds that what he earlier described as his “super power”--the ability to “really, really look”--gets him out of his difficulty. And although we know he was never in any real danger, the rapprochement and resolution cap a satisfying evening in the theater.

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