Sometimes great source material does not make for great art; and The Collaboration‘s looks to stand as proof positive. Though the same examination of artists made for a great movie in Basquiat, this play presents caricatures spouting viewpoints and leaves much to be desired. Jeremy Pope succeeds slightly better at playing Jean-Michel Basquiat than Paul Bettany as Andy Warhol, but even these talented actors can only do so much with a bad script.
Variety Review of The Collaboration
Pope seems to be everywhere these days, from the Toronto International Film Festival (for “The Inspection”) to the Young Vic, where “The Collaboration” originated. But even on the intimate stage of Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theater on Broadway, he has both theatrical presence and a personal dynamism that make him impossible to resist. … Bettany gives a smart physical performance as Warhol (here is a man who knows how to wear a wig) while reaching deep enough into his character to locate an actual heart, if not a soul. … It’s hard to call this gushing fountain of clever talk a play. There’s no dramatic shape to it: No plot, no event, no conflict, no danger. But there are two richly drawn characters on stage with plenty to say for themselves.
The New York Times Review of The Collaboration
Pope summons not only his charm — a magnet for women, Basquiat dated Madonna — but also his brilliance, ache and depth. His paintings are layered and full, textured and emphatic; so is Pope’s performance. With his heart-melting dimpled smile, he plays the frenetic former graffiti artist as if he knows every pulse of Basquiat’s life that we don’t see onstage, and that McCarten’s blunt instrument of a script can’t convey. Bettany, though, barely locates more than two dimensions in Warhol, as if the task were to play an icon, not a human being. That could be deliberate. Funny, frail, effete, Bettany’s Warhol is as meticulously impersonal as his art, and my goodness he whines. And he does so in the particular way of characters who need to get some exposition out. … Onstage, though, “The Collaboration” feels emptily formulaic — less like an insider’s view of its famous subjects’ lives than a kind of biographical tourism that gets into serious gawking in its second half. It doesn’t bring us any insight into whatever closeness Warhol and Basquiat had.
Deadline Review of The Collaboration
The wig gives it away, otherwise we’d be hard-pressed to immediately – or even slowly – recognize Paul Bettany’s fast-talking, extroverted and inquisitive artist character in Anthony McCarten’s The Collaboration as that historic icon of cryptic, mumbled monosyllables Andy Warhol. Unfortunately, Bettany isn’t the only thing that feels smudged in this ’80s-set paint-by-numbers and highly fictionalized dual bio-play. … The Collaboration is an oddly lifeless endeavor, a failure in capturing even a moment of simple artistic inspiration much less the ignition of collaborative genius. … McCarten, as evidenced by this play, his book for the Neil Diamond musical and his script for the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody has a knack for finding the human beneath the celebrity, but just as often often whittles away the bumps and sharp spots that made them worth our attention in the first place. At least jukebox musicals can exploit familiar tunes to resurrect life in ways that no fright wig or cartoon gesticulating can. The Collaboration, when all is painted and done, is a jukebox musical without the music.