Even though it cost him a bullet through the kishkas, it may be just as well Andy Warhol never produced Valerie Solanas’s bitterly hilarious, anti-hetero sex romp Up Your Ass. Now that the script Warhol lost more than 30 years ago has been recovered and staged in all its guttural, glittery glory, it’s easy to see that Warhol wouldn’t have had a clue about how to present it. Sure, he may have dismissed the play as so dirty it made him suspect Solanas was an undercover cop (and no doubt his flip assertion that he’d misplaced the manuscript fueled Solanas’s paranoia). But a more likely scenario suggests itself in the face of the actual text: Warhol must have flung it aside in uncomprehending horror. How could the cool, asexual, pallid pop artist, enthralled by consumer culture, find his way into this overheated, sex-drenched, knee-slapping diatribe that calls for doing away with men and money? Could there be two more contrary sensibilities?
Up Your Ass, though light-sketchy in structure, seethes with emotion and politics while splashing playfully in a swamp of bodily functions. Written in 1965—and hinting at The SCUM Manifesto that Solanas would pen and peddle on the streets a few years later—the play centers on a wisecracking, trick-turning, thoroughly misanthropic dyke called Bongi (played with scowling charm by Sara Moore). Bongi banters with drag queens (one yearns to be a lesbian: “Then I could be the cake and eat it too”). She entreats—and ill treats—clientele (letting a john buy her dinner, she tells him, “I’m gonna help you fulfill yourself as a man”). And she wrangles with professional and married women who kowtow to men and complain about how tricky it is to combine marriage and career (“Trickier to combine no marriage and no career,” Bongi boasts).
The cynical quips and Barbie-bashing barbs show off Solanas’s gifts as a clever, quirky wordsmith, but what astonishes more is the ahead-of-its-time critique of gender roles and sexual mores embedded in the jollity. Queer theory has nothing on the boundary-smashing glee of Solanas’s dystopia, where the two-sex system is packed off to the junkyard. Think early Charles Ludlam infused with feminism, glitter drag mixed into the Five Lesbian Brothers.
Director George Coates extends the fun and the bite by casting women in all the roles. Thus drag queen characters sport froufrou wigs and furry sideburns. Hetero male characters swagger into an ironic space that cuts out pathos by showing masculinity to be just as artificial as femininity. Still, females are hardly off Solanas’s hook: A shrewish mother strangles her whining child; a dolled-up socialite gobbles a turd because “everyone knows that men have much more respect for women who are good at lapping up shit.” The casting works, too, because every one of the actors is first-rate. Leanne Borghesi is a hoot as the turd-tasting Ginger, twittering and barking her way through inane conversation and wobbling in her red pumps during her “dance of the seven towels.” As her guy Russell, Mantra Plonsey deadpans self-serious worldliness with husky harumphs and well-placed hitchings of the trousers. After he’s sodomized by Bongi and screwed by Ginger, he slinks off with one of the funniest exit lines in all of Western drama: “I have to go soak my squid.”
Coates’s other innovation, though he has made no cuts in the text, is to set much of it to pop tunes, karaoke-style—”Me and Bobby McGee,” “Pretty Woman,” “White Rabbit.” The cast sings well and the music pumps even more energy and layers of artifice into the brew. In any case, just when Giuliani is threatening to establish a decency commission, there’s nothing more salutary than a line of actors gyrating and crooning away about “mighty fine ass” or demanding harmoniously, “Why should I dress to give a man a hard-on? Let him get his own hard-on.”
Presaging The SCUM Manifesto, Bongi predicts a day when the phrase “female of the species will be a redundancy.” What happened instead, of course, is that the phrase so often used to describe Solanas after she shot Warhol—”deranged feminist”—became the redundancy.
At least that’s the conclusion one has to draw from Carson Kreitzer’s superficial bio-play Valerie Shoots Andy, which bounces between the Warhol Factory and scenes with Solanas before and after she shot Warhol, using a voice-over interviewer-narrator in lieu of a dramatic structure. The play quotes liberally from The SCUM Manifesto, but rather than being interested in what’s expressed through its rhetorical excess, Kreitzer uses it merely as an explanation for Solanas’s violent crime. Lines from that text bring abundant guffaws. So do the ditzy depictions of the drugged-out models who hung onto Warhol. But do we really need a 90-minute play to reveal the vacuity of that world? Worse, the play repeats certain scenes over and over, trying to make a dramatic equivalent of Pop Art in the most shallow of ways. Several times the Warhol figure—or his double—explains that he likes boredom. Memo to playwright: That doesn’t mean audiences do.