Local avante-garde theater director George Coates was visiting Pittsburgh just over a year ago when he found himself in the Andy Warhol Museum with an hour to spare before his flight back to San Francisco. He approached a clerk in the museum's bookstore and asked for a recommendation on what to see. "The Valerie Solanas exhibit," the clerk suggested. Coates nearly choked.

Many people might remember Solanas as the radically feminist writer who shot Warhol in the late '60s. A quasi-member of the Factory, Warhol's ever present groupie-art-gang, Solanas shot him in an off-kilter fit of frustration after he refused to return a script of hers, which she had loaned him two years before. (She had wanted him to produce the work, but he had put her off repeatedly. Although Warhol lived through the incident, many say he was disillusioned and withdrawn thereafter. Solanas, who also authored the "S.C.U.M. Manifesto" - a crude and pungent work outlining the goals and values of the Society to Cut Up Men, an organization she founded and remained the sole member of - was incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Prison for Women. She eventually died of pneumonia, alone in a San Francisco hotel room in 1988, one year after Warhol's death. And that's all most know about Solanas.


But Coates believes that Solanas, apart from being an extremist, was also a revolutionary writer and thinker. Fed up with the Martha Stewart-homemaker prescription for a woman's life in the '60s, she sought a venue to voice her dissatisfaction with societal norms.

Shortly, before Coates fell upon the Solanas exhibit in Pittsburgh, his creative sidekick and assistant director Eddy Faulkner persuaded him to watch "I Shot Andy Warhol," a movie about Solanas' life before she was dubbed a gunslayer by the entire artistic world. Intrigued thereafter about the early life of this politically satirical, headstrong, street-walking lesbian writer, both Coates and Faulkner had only one question: Whatever happened to Solanas' play?

Nobody knew. And then Coates found it, sitting pretty in Warhol's own museum. Th longtime director, shocked at having virtually walked ino the very piece of drama he'd been searching for (which had been previously rediscovered in the silver trunk of Warhol's lighting technician), presently took a seat in an overstuffed leather chair and began reading Solanas' "Up Your Ass."

"I was astonished at how offensive it still is," says Coates in retrospect. "It's a take-no-prisoners farce. It shows Valerie as an artist, as a very funny satirist...but I realized it would be an awfully difficult challenge to produce it today and make it work."

Coates made it only halfway through the script before he had to leave town, but he returned shortly after to finish reading it. And soon he was receiving permission from Solanas' sister Judith to produce it.

"It's amazing that the play was written in 1965, and when the word 'feminism' wasn't even used - it's very contemporary," says Coates, who describes the work as an "eliminate-the-men battle-of-the-sexes" play that is "sexually aggressive and intensely challenging to gender norms and sexual mores." Coates also remarks on Solanas' sharp, witty humor, a somewhat surprising discovery in light of her notorious reputation of having been violent, demented and shockingly crass. He is quick to point out that Solanas' now infamous script was written before she shot Warhol; his intent in resurrecting "Up Your Ass" is not to glorify the crime, but rather to separate the play form it. (After all, to disregard every writer throughout history who was a criminal, alcoholic or wife-beater would leave us with a rather depleted literary canon.)

Producing "Up Your Ass" - which Coates refers to as an "anthropoligical find" - was not an easy task. The original play is only 40 pages long (much of which has now been put to pop music), the characters often enter the script without introductions and, during production, several actors actually left the show in fear of being pegged as man-haters. But the biggest obastacle Coates encountered was the savory icing on any director's moralistic cake: the challenge of directing the play without manipulating the dead writer's original intentions.

"How do you do a play about eliminating the men when there are male characters in it?" Coates recalls musing. And then came the epiphany. One evening, while listening to a woman in male drag sing at the Mint, Coates and his cronies had a blazingly butch brainstorm: to cast women for all the parts. He attended the drag king contest at Bottom of the Hill, paid visits to the Lexington Club and put out a call for female actors interested in exploring gender roles.

In the end, Coates has done more than realize Solanas' dramatic vision; he has created an all-female repertory and brought deserved attention to the "drag king thing" going on in San Francisco - a scene that suffers sorely from being misunderstood for its tremendous contrast with that of the drag queen. "It's about passing, not about show biz," says Coates of the difference between women and men who dress in drag. "This whole drag king thing is kind of a fresh nascent move. There's only one coffee table book on it...but at least there's one."

With its gender-bending points and actors-only-with-breasts casting, "Up Your Ass" is San Francisco to the core. And although it's too soon to predict where this play may be headed, Coates says he feels certain that Solanas would approve of the production since he's "eliminated all the men." Obviously, one must note, that doesn't include himself.