Harvey Fierstein

Harvey Fierstein

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Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein had his La MaMa debut in the 1971 Warhol play Pork well before winning two Tony Awards for writing and starring in Torch Song Trilogy.

 

Andy Warhol “Writes” Pork

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The play Pork was based on transcripts of Andy Warhol’s audiotaped conversations with Factory regular Brigid Polk (née Brigid Berlin), with some notable alterations (Brigid Polk became “Amanda Pork” and Viva became “Vulva”). “Andy was just a very quiet guy who didn’t say anything,” recalled Tony Zanetta, who played the Warhol character in the show. “He liked to instigate other people to talk, and he started carrying around a tape recorder everywhere. What Warhol did with everything, he would take something real and then put it on the wall and it was ‘art.’ Pork was that as well because, really, what was it? It was a bunch of words. It was real conversations, but it was put onstage with actors speaking the lines. Pork became a play in the same way that his art was created.” While Zanetta performed in Wayne County’s World: Birth of a Nation and worked on the crew for the next show Tony Ingrassia directed, Sheila, Warhol was arranging for him to direct Pork. One day during rehearsals for Sheila, Ingrassia turned to him and said, “You could play Andy,” and Zanetta was happy to oblige. One of the first things he did was cut his hair like Warhol’s, and he also closely studied the artist when he came to rehearsals. “For me, it was the thrill of a lifetime to do Pork,” Zanetta said, “because I just thought that Warhol was, like, it. I look at pictures of the show and, sure, I don’t look like Andy Warhol—but if you look at pictures of me made up to look like Andy, there are a lot of physical similarities that I wouldn’t have even been aware of.” Wayne County played Vulva, and Pork also featured a young actor and playwright named Harvey Fierstein in his La MaMa debut (he would go on to win two Tony Awards for writing and starring in Torch Song Trilogy). “Pork was still the Ridiculous theater thing, but it pushed Ridiculous into a whole different area,” Zanetta recalled. “Ingrassia’s way was more polished, sort of like I Love Lucy. It was like TV acting. It was very broad, very exaggerated.”

From Chapter 24 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Harvey Fierstein’s In Search of the Cobra Jewels

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After Harry Koutoukas’s apartment caught fire in 1972, actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote a show about his attempt to help clean up the mess, In Search of the Cobra Jewels. Fierstein played the Koutoukas character, mixing real details from the apartment (such as how Koutoukas partitioned his living space by tying together large scarves) with bawdy surrealism. He recited a poem about a lover as he cut a folded piece of paper with scissors—then opened it up to reveal a string of little paper men with penises, holding hands. The Cobra Jewels cast also included Agosto Machado, Ronald Tavel, Harvey Tavel, and the unpredictable Koutoukas himself, who began slicing his wrists with a razor onstage one night. “Take the razor out of Koutoukas’s hand!” people screamed as Ellen Stewart tried to stop him. “Take the razor out of his hand!” Machado recalled, “We all walked offstage, and Koutoukas—who is fabulous—he just said, ‘Oh, are you going to condemn me for getting blood on the stage?’ ” In Michael Smith’s Village Voice review, he reported that “the opening night blood-letting introduced too much reality onto the stage for my taste. I was sickened and horrified.”1 Stewart was also disturbed by the spectacle, and some time after she reminded him, “Harry, I actually saved your life, remember? You were onstage and you slit your wrists and then you started to cut your throat and I stopped you.” The stubborn playwright retorted, “Yes, but I still object to you stopping my performance, for censoring me. But I do thank you.”

From Chapter 29 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore