Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania folklore tells about a bar where teenager Andy Warhol drew pictures on napkins in exchange for bottles of Coke: “It was a nice story, but just a story.” Inspired by this apocryphal tale, talented playwright Vince Melocchi fleshes out this bare bones fiction with infinite delicacy and gentle grace. Both Pittsburgh natives, Melocchi and Warhol would appear to share more than their roots as Melocchi plumbs the account of well-hidden talents which may never see the light of day. An official selection of the Road Theatre Company’s 1918 Summer Playwrights Festival, ANDY WARHOL’S TOMATO receives its world premiere staging and ushers in the Pacific Resident Theatre’s 1919-1920 season.
Set in Homestead, a city near Pittsburgh, in the summer of 1946, naive teenager Andy Warhol (Derek Chariton) is just beginning to flap his juvenile wings when he meets Mario “Bones” Bonino (Keith Stevenson), the owner of a shabby, working-class bar. Following a mishap in the bar’s basement which results in Bonino’s favorite picture frame ending a smashed mess, Andy agrees to pay Bonino back by painting a new sign for the bar. It quickly becomes evident that both men have quite a different view of what the finished product will look like.
Soon Andy has found his new safety haven – and his new but reluctant friend – within the confines of a dark cellar. And soon, despite his own upbringing, “Bonesy” takes on the role of savior and mentor for the peculiar lad. After all, Bonesy has his own secrets: he slavishly hides his writing – and even his typewriter – from his own wife and everyone in his hard-working, heavy-drinking circle. From an uneasy truce, can Andy and Bones come to an understanding about creativity and life in general? This is a play which exquisitely traces the steps.
With a well-written script and two very capable actors breathing life into quirky Andy and stolid Bonesy, ANDY WARHOL’S TOMATO has taken a cute and certainly untrue story from Andy Warhol’s early life and turned it into a play with a profound and timeless message for all. Kudos for director Dana Jackson’s tender handling of dynamics which, in lesser hands, might falter. Light and projection designer Andrew Schmedake has done a brilliant job of turning the dull and dim basement into a place of light and life. Rich Rose’s scenic design has just the right grimy feel, and the entire production staff functions with creative competence. ANDY WARHOL’S TOMATO is a not-to-be-missed study of what goes into achieving the goals of self-understanding and acceptance. And, besides, it’s an entertaining and often humorous evening out.
ANDY WARHOL’S TOMATO runs through September 22, 2019 with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Pacific Resident Theatre is located at 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. Tickets are $25 (Thursdays and Fridays), $34 (Saturdays), and $30 (Sundays). For information and reservations, call 310-822-8392 or go online.