Love and Anger – Betty Grumble and respect for Valerie Solanas (Theatre Review)

Betty Grumble – Love and Anger

21 – 26 January 2019. You can grab your tickets here.

Griffin Theatre Company

Just mention the name Valerie Solanas and the internet hums with the hoards of angry men rushing to shut your mouth in the name of free speech. The S.C.U.M. Manifesto is an intentional provocation to expose the fear that drives anti-feminists. It works just as well today as it did in the 1960s. The pamphlet’s potency is underlined by her shooting of Any Warhol. This action led Norman Mailer to call her “Robespierre of feminism” (Robespierre oversaw the killing of 16,594 people in twelve months). Another overstatement typical of descriptions about Valerie Solanas presumes her shooting tortured Andy Warhol for the subsequent twenty years till his death (Warhol believed in natural therapies and refused certain early intervention medical treatments). Andy Warhol himself blamed any mediocre art on his subsequent fear of “seeing creepy people” since Valerie Solanas shot him. Male writers with similar problems like Jack Kerouac (schizophrenia) or William S. Burroughs (shot his wife) never had to endure the naming and shaming Valerie Solanas lived with. Neither do they suffer under overt attempts to obliterate or recharacterise their work.

Of more consequence is the absence in most commentary of the detailed contents of the brown paper bag Solanas left at the scene of the shooting. The bag contained three items: A pistol, Valerie Solanas’ address book and a women’s menstral pad. For James M Harding, these items were props to stage the assassination. He goes on to state “Somewhere between the props and the pistol shots, Solanas constructed a mode of performance that absolutely defied the mode of conventions of mainstream theatre and tore at the very conceptual fabric of the avantguarde. In this respect, the seemingly insignificant paper bag left on the table at Warhol’s Factory has a major part to play not only in establishing Solanas’ act as a calculated aesthetic but also as a performance that, like the sanitary napkin among its contents, transgressed decorum by calling attention to basic feminine experiences that were basically taboo and tacitly elided within avantguarde circles.” (The Simplest Surrealist Act: Valerie Solanas and the (Re)Assertion of Avantgarde Priorities) This is artistic courage the likes of which the world had never seen.

It’s now 2019, fifty-two years after Mother Valerie (Goddess Valerie Betty Grumble would call her) wrote her brilliant, funny and Scathingly Real Manifesto. Love and Anger is a loving tribute, performed with a dose of Annie Sprinkle touting the camaraderie of Fourth Wave and Eco feminism. It stands on the shoulders of Valerie Solanas equally to “defy the modes of conventions of mainstream theatre.” Betty Grumble aka Emma Maye Gibson gives a passionate and devoted ode to the Witch of the Warhol shot in which she tries super hard to make everyone feel comfortable with the unspeakable: a female that is properly nude. Love and Anger is birthed from the art of Valerie Solanas and cries its promise that we are free to feel the fear and work with it. Just as the S.C.U.M. Manifesto awakens this fear, so the nakedness of Betty Grumble reveals another. We the audience do well to remember art’s purpose is to provoke and give us feelings that we examine. Forget analysis, judgement or middle class anti-feminist morality. Just like The S.C.U.M. Manifesto, this show provokes intense feelings, and then leaves you with them.

In this way Love and Anger forces us to confront our discomfort. The performance starts with Betty Grumble asking “Who came here to see my vagina tonight?” Predictably no one raises their hand. This is the first moment you lie to yourself and realise you are part of a group you don’t admire. The struggle to keep up with this brilliant young woman continues from there, as confrontations lead to feelings which lead to opinions which lead to the horrors of self-discovery which lead to retractions, and an inner voice counselling you to chill. You examine the audiences faces, desperate for a grimace or sign of shock that might trick you into thinking you’re above all that.

However, Love and Anger is not for the anti-feminist. The performance of Betty Grumble makes no anemic attempt to preach. Like the S.C.U.M. Manifesto itself it is a clarion call to the converted, a proper acknowledgement by Emma Maye Gibson that she will most likely perform to people who love her. Inside this, she gives us a glimpse of what it all could and should look like, and the righteous anger to go forth and multiply in our own story of a Solanas Subversion. It leaves us feeling exhilarated, alive and inspired to do our own version of something anti-establishment. Fortunately, this wears off and we get back to our normal life far sooner than we know is acceptable. But for a couple of hours we feel the proper levels of confrontation that excite the radical idea we can do something with all this rage.

If it is true that for art to reach us it must entertain us (whatever it means to be ‘entertained’) then surely Love and Anger strikes the perfect balance between cheery fun and provocative revolution. Betty Grumble is a funny construct and Emma Maye Gibson knows how to solicit a laugh. Love and Anger is, primarily, a funny show that will give you many opportunities for conversation deep into the night. A congratulations and shout out to The Griffin Theatre company for curating such a controversial show with such a strong voice. When about to read her first excerpt of The S.C.U.M. Manifesto, Betty Grumble asks who in the audience has read the work. In the two show’s I’ve attended, I was the only other person in the room who’d read (or admitted to reading) this essential work by Valerie Solanas. By bringing Love and Anger to a broader audience, Griffin have gone a long way to rectifying that.
This show comes highly recommended.

If you have never read The S.C.U.M Manifesto, catch it here.