Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie (Fail Better Theatre) 2014 Toronto Fringe Review

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Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie is Fail Better Theatre’s tribute to the troubled relationship between pop culture icons—Valerie Solanas and Andy Warhol. This immersive experience at the Toronto Fringe Festival is written and performed by Ben Hayward (Andy) and Ali Richardson (Valerie). Twenty-five audience members arrive as invited guests to a party Andy’s throwing for Valerie at The Factory. It’s an artsy party.

Valerie Solanas is best know for her SCUM Manifesto, a radical feminist (widely considered satirical) call to arms against patriarchal oppression and suggesting the extermination of men for the betterment of society. Oh, and for shooting Andy Warhol. She’s an intriguing figure—obviously disturbed, fiercely intelligent, and quite terrifying.

In the context of this party, Andy has dolled her up like a playful child in big girl clothes and turned her into his own art piece for the evening. Hoping to be taken seriously as an artist and rebel, Valerie breaks down.

The first ten minutes or so are meant as an ice-breaker for everyone. There are interactive activities to loosen us up: making art, taking photos, chatting each other up. It’s fun! Then Andy and Valerie show up and the tension mounts!

I was expecting Valerie to seem a little more dangerous and unstable, but Richardson focuses instead on Valerie’s discomfort and frustration. She’s overjoyed to have a captive audience, but is clearly uncomfortable with her initial appearance and can’t wait to tear off the oppressive high heels and don her army surplus attire.

The bulk of the play is Valerie’s attempt to take control of the evening. With her band of trained misfits as backup singer/dancers, she dramatizes portions of her SCUM Manifesto. There is an amusing quality to the storybook presentation of Solanas’ anti-establishment ideals, but I found these sequences too cartoonish and far less interesting than the drama between her and Andy (and his assistant, Gerard).

You can understand her frustration with him. Hayward has mastered that iconic Warhol persona—distracted, soft-spoken, monotone. He’s both endearing and exasperating. He comes off as dismissive when he’s quietly amused. I’m not sure how many of his one-liners were scripted or improvised, but there are some real gems!

This is an immersive experience I recommend to anyone who is fascinated by these pop culture icons, and could use a good laugh at how easily anything can be branded as art. Also, you have to be open to the experience of moving around and investigating to appreciate it. It’s all about being there.

The structure of the evening will remain the same, but some of the specifics will be up to you. Have some fun with it! As for me, I didn’t leave much of an impression on Valerie, but Andy really liked my hat!


Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie plays at the Influx Creative Space – Studio 7 (141 Spadina Ave, near Spadina and Queen)

Show times
July 03 at 08:00 PM
July 04 at 08:00 PM
July 05 at 08:00 PM
July 06 at 08:00 PM
July 07 at 08:00 PM
July 08 at 08:00 PM
July 09 at 08:00 PM
July 10 at 02:00 PM
July 10 at 08:00 PM
July 11 at 08:00 PM
July 12 at 08:00 PM
July 13 at 08:00 PM

Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.

To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.

Photo of Ali Richardson and Ben Hayward provided by the company.