Finding the Jewish Warhol connection 

I don’t know whether Andy Warhol is good for the Jews, but Josh Kornbluth sure is. The local solo performer is also good for non-Jews and anybody with a sense of humor.

In his latest show, “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?”” at Jewish Theatre San Francisco, he appears in his trademark crazy-colorful shirt, a stocky, balding, affable figure in round glasses.

Under collaborator David Dower’s astute direction, he delivers the 90-minute narrative in his usual energetic, gesticulating style and is as hilariously candid and self-effacing as ever.

As in his previous works, his signature digressions turn out to be not so digressive after all.

When San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum asked the popular monologist to create a performance to accompany its presentation of the famous pop artist’s 1980s series “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” (a work that was perceived by some as “Jewploitation,” as Kornbluth explains), he hesitated.

A New York-born red-diaper baby and bred-in-the-bone atheist, he wasn’t sure Warhol’s portraits would mean anything to him personally. He didn’t feel like a Jew — just “Jew-ish.” In his family, it was all about, “Is it good for the workers?”

But he began to study the 10 silkscreened portraits and found himself thinking about Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s description of a generous “I-thou” way of relating to the world at large. Slowly but surely, Kornbluth began a journey of self-discovery toward his own inherent Jewish — and humanist — identity.

As he contemplates the upstage wall projections (scenic/lighting designer is Alexander V. Nichols) of Warhol’s “minyan,” he discusses in engagingly meandering detail how he came to connect to each one of the carefully chosen 10 — Buber, Freud, Golda Meir, Sarah Bernhardt, Gertrude Stein, George Gershwin, the Marx Brothers (lumped together as one Jew), Kafka, Louis Brandeis and, most importantly to Kornbluth, Einstein (“the patron saint of ‘what if?’”) — as well as to the flaxen-haired artist himself.

Thematically this is Kornbluth’s most deeply considered piece, and it’s the first one likely to elicit not only belly laughs but a lump in the throat.

A few of the scenes he describes are profoundly moving: sitting vigil at his comatose father’s bedside, a strange encounter with a suicidal stranger on the George Washington Bridge, his sad reunion with his beloved father’s estranged parents.

Ultimately we become somehow connected to Warhol, to the iconic Jews and to Kornbluth himself. We the audience are his “thou.”

 

THEATER REVIEW
Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?

Presented by the Jewish Theatre San Francisco

Where: 470 Florida St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes May 16
Tickets: $20 to $45
Contact: (415) 292-1233, www.tjt-sf.org

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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