Section: Arts

Up Your Ass provides insight into feminism of the 1960s

Up Your Ass provides insight into feminism of the 1960s

The cast of Up Your Ass. | COURTESY OF AMANDA KUO

As soon as director Ruby Rosenfeld ’24 walked across the stage and proclaimed that the play was dedicated to herself, the audience knew that Up Your Ass was going to be irreverent, wacky and humorous. But as the play unfolded in the Harlene Marley Theater on Feb. 16 and 17, deeper and darker themes emerged, leaving the audience with some messages that might be considered outdated at Kenyon, but would have been considered radical when the play debuted in the 1960s.

Up Your Ass is based on playwright Valerie Solanas’ experience as a sex worker living on the streets of Lower Manhattan. Rosenfeld wrote in her Director’s Note, “Know this is a play about gender, this is a play about power and most importantly, this is a play about disrupting gender and power as we know it. In order to change the world, we have to subvert it.”

The play subverts more than just gender and power; it also subverts the actor-audience relationship. Protagonist and sex worker Bongi, played by Chiara Rothenberg ’25, is a compelling everyman — or everywoman — as she flirts with the audience and reacts to the sexism happening around her.

The play begins when womanizers White Cat, played by Raya Kenney ’24, and Black Cat, played by Ty Cutler ’24, join Bongi onstage, announcing that they are the “Amalgamated Ass Watchers of America.” Throughout the play, Kenney and Cutler, who also portrayed drag queens Miss Collins and Scheherazade, were a humorous and competitive duo. Amid the trash littered across the stage, they added a comedic effect to an otherwise heavy play.

On her character, Kenney wrote in an email to the Collegian, “I initially grappled with playing a drag queen as a femme-presenting individual — I was worried about taking away from some/any aspect of the character that Valerie Solanas would have wanted. We discussed our character’s conceptualizations of their own gender, and concluded that in contrast to Miss Collins, who was performing a gender as part of her sexuality, Scheherazade was actually a trans character. Because it was written in the 1960s, she wouldn’t have had the ability to express it the way she may have openly wanted to.”

According to a 2020 New York Times article, Solanas was a radical feminist and a pioneering queer theorist. Her ideas are reflected in the character Bongi, whose revolutionary philosophies clash with those of the people she meets. Through the characters Ginger, played by Elaine Preston ’25, and Teacher, played by Cecelia O’Sullivan ’26, Solanas illustrates women’s stereotypical views of gender at the time.

On her acting process, Preston wrote in an email to the Collegian, “I don’t believe in playing stereotypes and stock characters, it’s important for me to find a soul in any character I play, and so in order for Ginger to click, I ended up thinking a lot about how women become dependent on validation, especially from the men in their lives. And a large part of that comes from being isolated from women!”

Lin McDow ’26 gave a delightfully obnoxious performance as the character of Russell. Russell is a clear representation of a man who doesn’t know what to do with an opinionated woman like Bongi, who has no appreciation for men. Yet McDow brought a humor to the role as Russell details the meal he intends to prepare (every single recipe involved alcohol) and checks his vocabulary notecards, “accidentally” spilling them all over the stage. 

Their scene partner, Preston, wrote, “One of my favorite bits to do every night was being Russell’s yes-man during the monologue about how smart and awesome he is.” She explained, “The play as produced argues pretty effectively for the harm that the patriarchal system does to the women who subscribe to it.”

At the end of the scene, Bongi loses her patience with Ginger and Russell’s views of gender and finally tells them, “I’m so female, I’m subversive!” 

In the last scene, Amelia Kovach ’25 introduced herself as Mrs. Arthur Hazlett, a restless housewife hiding from her unfortunate son (played by Finn McWhirter ’26 in an oversized yellow raincoat). She comes across Bongi sitting on her front steps and shares her discontent with her family life, as Bongi shares that she is a lesbian. Surprised, Mrs. Hazlett remarks, “I’ve always wanted to be one of those!”

Kenney shared her love for this scene and the company: “They all absolutely nailed their characters, and every time Finn would come running onstage sobbing about the ‘glue up in his peehole,’ I would simply collapse into fits of laughter,” she said. 

“The overall message is that the patriarchal conception of sex rots people and we need to severely examine our behavior and alter our trajectory if we find ourselves swimming in those circles,” Preston wrote. “I think the play succeeded in confronting audience members with the absurd horror that might await them at the end of this patriarchy death spiral, and what stands out to me is how funny it was despite the bleak reality it laid out…I’d hope audiences might also pause and think about how their lives and beliefs might mirror the characters they see.”Rosenfeld tackles immature sexuality and gender responsibilities in Up Your Ass. Performed to perfection by an engaging, talented cast, the play is full of sexual innuendos and 1960s’ feminism. Even today, Solanas’ commentary on gender and power rings true, not only because of its humor, but because of its prevalence in society. Everyone knows a Russell, a Ginger, an Arthur. And we all have a little Bongi at heart.

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