Andy, Truman would have loved ‘WARHOLCAPOTE’

Stephen Spinella and Dan Butler as Andy Warhol and Truman Capote in WARHOLCAPOTE. Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography

CAMBRIDGE – Andy Warhol and Truman Capote would likely have approved of the creativity in what the American Repertory Theater is calling the new production based on their relationship.

WarholCapote,” subtitled “a non-fiction invention,” was fashioned by Rob Roth from many hours of taped conversations between the two late cultural icons, and it is original, insightful, funny and very, very entertaining.

Two-time Tony winner Stephen Spinella’s Warhol and Dan Butler’s Capote are both well-wrought performances, Butler’s made even more impressive by the fact he first stepped into the role just a few days before the first preview after Leslie Jordan dropped out.

Warhol had always thought that the 80 hours of taped conversations that he made with Capote in the decade before Capote’s death at 59 in 1985 would end up on stage in some form or fashion, in a play or perhaps a series of plays.

While Spinella nails Warhol, Butler has the tougher road to hoe as Capote. Warhol’s face was familiar, but he wasn’t the television presence that Capote was, and Butler’s work is being matched against both those late-night appearances and the film work of Robert Morse and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Warhol and Capote was a very strange relationship that was even stranger in its origins in the early 1950s, when Warhol was an obsessed, quasi- stalker of Capote, writing him daily letters and camping out outside his apartment until Capote’s mother took pity on him and invited him in.

The man Capote branded at first a “loser” became one of his closest friends.

Spinella’s Warhol is quick to praise others’ efforts — “That’s so great” – but he is plagued by self-doubt. He claims not to know what art is, and often ruminates that he should have stuck with the Campbell Soup cans.

There are several glimpses of the lonely little boy Truman was when he was keeping company with Snookie in his beautiful “A Christmas Memory” and the oft-lonely evenings when friends weren’t hanging on his every word.

It is poignant as we watch him describe his rehab time at the Hazelton Clinic, claiming “they didn’t want me to leave.”

Dealing with his demons was never easy. “It’s difficult to be intelligent and go to AA.”

In one of several asides to the audience. Warhol actively doubts the veracity of much of what Truman says, but the roll call of verified Capote friends/acquaintances includes such icons as Jacqueline Kennedy, “Mockingbird” author Harper Lee and playwright Tennessee Williams. Butler as Capote speaking in Williams’ voice is great fun.

Warhol often serves as a sounding board and receptacle for Capote’s dishing and verbal daggers aimed at both friend and foe, and Capote can be cruel, going on in great detail about a friend who has “Those big, fat arms.”

Spinella never wavers from the “everything is wonderful” aspect of Warhol’s manner of speaking, which raises hackles, especially when Warhol is praising a person Truman despises.

Through the conversations we get a peek at the effect our celebrity culture had on Warhol, the man who predicted in 1968 that In the future, everyone will be worldfamous for 15 minutes,” and Capote, who claimed to abhor the spotlight even as he was doing everything in his power to keep it on himself.

At times, “WarholCapote” ventures far afield, with a rather vivid examination of the duo’s sex lives,or perhaps make that life, since Warhol was the first to admit his was nonexistent, which Capote found very concerning. Capote does contribute a scandalously funny story involving himself and Humphrey Bogart.

Roth spent many years trying to wrest the transcripts from the Warhol estate and more years mining them for the nuggets of gold therein. Director Michael Mayer injects enough movement to keep the piece from becoming a stagey two-hander, but there’s little chance of things stalling out given what Roth has gathered up for Butler and Spinella to deliver.

Stanley A. Meyer’s set features a number of curved strips that seem to create a web, and which lighting designer Kevin Adams puts to good use, while Darrel Maloney’s period-perfect projections in the background pay tribute to the spirit of Warhol’s artistry and the time and place.

Warhol and Capote might both have enjoyed this production, Warhol for its visual delights and Capote for seeing himself being appreciated by yet another audience, and revisiting highlights of himself as the brilliantly talented but troubled writer and raconteur he was.

The American Repertory Theater production of “WarholCapote, a non-fiction invention.”Adapted by Rob Roth from the words of Truman Capote and Andy Warhol. Directed by Michael Mayer. Scenic design by Stanley A, Meyer. Costume design by Clint Ramos. Lighting design by Kevin Adams. Sound design by Jon Gromada. Projection design by Darrel Maloney. Hair and wig design by Charles La Pointe. Make-up design by Cookie Jordan. Dialect coaching by Erika Bailey. At the Loeb Drama Center, Brattle Street, Cambridge, through October 13.