The Penis Monologues: They Don't Know Dick
Courtesy of Eve Ensler, we've heard from the oppressed. Now, it's time to give the oppressors their turn. In the spirit of equality between the sexes, which is always an important goal, Robert Watts has penned his answer to The Vagina Monologues, quite cleverly called The Penis Monologues: Men Speak.
Right from the get-go, we have an inherent problem. As the play begins, Mr. Watts, speaking through his three actors, whines that while listening to Ms. Ensler's play, he wanted to hear a man's take on the issues. His needs, it would seem, were not met by this play about women's emotions. Call me heartless, but it's awfully hard to find much sympathy there. The Vagina Monologues was one of the first mainstream plays to deal explicitly and honestly with women's identities as sexual beings. The entire purpose of the endeavor was to finally give a voice to the innermost thoughts of women. If Mr. Watts wanted to see a play about men and their identities, he could go see a play by... heck, just about anyone in the industry. Let's face it: historically, the theatre has been dominated by menfolk. Even today, Broadway is dominated by plays by and about men. How many female playwrights have won the Best Play Tony award? How many ladies have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama? We have Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, and... who else? Meanwhile, David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize winner Glengarry Glen Ross, with an all-male cast, is returning to Broadway this season. Meanwhile, Richard Greenberg's all-male Take Me Out won Best Play at the 2003 Tony Awards. Meanwhile, how many other plays feature women who exist only in relation to the primary male characters, having little or no identity of their own? And Mr. Watts feels that the men and their identity crises don't get enough stage time? My heart just bleeds.
But equality is the ultimate goal, and if women can finally speak in public about their vaginas, men should have the right to speak bluntly about their penises, even if there is little dramatic need for them to do so. Ostensibly, these monologues were based, like Ensler's, on interviews with many men of many social, racial, and sexual backgrounds. Perhaps Mr. Watts interviewed one man with multiple personalities, 'cause gosh, all those voices sure sound alike. And only a handful of them ring true. There are, to be fair, moments of genuine pathos and emotion, such as a man's feelings of mutilation when he thinks of his own circumcision, or a businessman pondering the sacrifices he's made for his family. And there are some moments of genuine humor, but most of the laughs are probably unintentional: A limp-wristed, lisping Gay man wonders if he is homosexual because his father tried to force women upon him at a young age. He chose to be Gay, apparently, as a form of rebellion. This isn't only offensive to every Gay person who has wrestled with his identity before finally accepting himself for who he is, it supports the dangerous misconception that people can choose whom they love and desire. A later monologue has a young man raging at the impulses inside him that "force" him to rape women. The subject is terrifying and serious; the writing and overblown delivery are anything but. Had Mr. Watts penned a scene in which a man defended himself on charges of rape ("She didn't really mean it when she said 'no!'" or something along those lines), the moment could have the weight it deserves. The horror is trivialized when passed off as the actions of a madman, rather than the result of centuries of chauvinism and misogyny.
The three actors who perform the monologues Lev Gorn, Christian Johnstone, and Steve Luker do their best work with the comic scenes, and score some bullseyes when they can be jovial and silly. Unfortunately, Mr. Watts is as weak in his direction as he is in his writing. The weightier moments, which discuss such issues as fidelity, cancer, and paternity as well as the above-mentioned rape and homosexuality, ring false, and become comic as a result. Even if they have been in the driver's seat for the past few millennia, men deserve better than this.
The overwhelming theme of the evening seems to be that a man's identity lies between his legs instead of in his heart or mind. If that's the case (and I truly doubt it is), I've never been more proud to be female.