The Penis Monologues: Men Speak
nytheatre.com review by David Pumo
March 10, 2005
The Penis Monologues: Men Speak begins with the three actors on stage talking about seeing The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler’s highly regarded play about woman’s sexual and body issues. All three say they found Ensler’s show interesting, informative, provocative, but ultimately exhausting. “What about us,” they wondered. “What about the penis?”
I wondered this myself before seeing the play. What about the penis? What about what the penis represents? What about men’s sexual and body issues? Is there enough material here to fill a ninety-minute play? Historically, the vagina has been ignored, abused, misunderstood, disrespected, objectified, commercialized, flaunted, hidden, and mutilated. There is a wealth of material there to be explored, with many important social, religious and political contexts and implications. But what about the penis?
I decided before seeing this play that the penis might certainly supply enough material to fill out a script. Men do, indeed, confront a great many issues revolving around the realities, fantasies, and expectations of what the penis is and what it supposedly represents. The Penis Monologues: Men Speak, however, is mostly either predictable or underdeveloped. Written and directed by Robert Watts, and based on actual interviews, it only scratches the surface of what I still believe could have been a more interesting and important discussion.
There’s more than one piece about penis size, of course. In one simplistic parable, a well-endowed man brags about how great his life is because he’s been with so many girls he “can’t even remember their names.” No girlfriend ever. In another, a man simply explains how, regardless of other qualities or accomplishments, it is the size of a man’s penis that defines the man. Do you know anyone who believes this?
There’s a seventy-two year old man (played like ninety-two, in my opinion) who puts the passion back into his marriage with Viagra. It’s cute, but not at all creative. There are much more interesting Viagra stories: men who take it even though they don’t need it, men who take it so much they are afraid not to take it, men who take it to counteract the effect of condoms or party drugs. In another funny but simplistic scene, a romantic fantasy date is ruined when the speaker loses his erection trying to put a condom on. The speaker makes condoms seem incomprehensibly demanding and unbearable to negotiate (see “Viagra”).
Some of the pieces are quite serious. In one disturbing piece, a married man with HIV is safe with his wife, but not with the women he fools around with. He once told one of them he needed to use a condom because he was positive, and she wouldn’t sleep with him. Why didn’t he just say he wanted to use a condom because… have you read a newspaper in the last 20 years?! Do women really reject men who want to use condoms? There is one pretty powerful piece about a man whose penis gets amputated due to penile cancer. It’s moving, but even this piece makes men seem pretty stupid. “It doesn’t matter that I have a wife, three children, and four grandchildren. I have no penis.” What?!
The one gay character in the play is a vulgar and offensive stereotype. Hand on hip, snapping his fingers, he tells us how his macho father rejected him, and how he “chose” to be gay and have sex, night after night, with countless men who “love” him like his father never did. Has this New York playwright/director never met a real gay man? Later we meet a man who is either supposed to be this character’s father or “every gay man’s father.” He is equally superficial and uninteresting, spouting his disgust and disappointment without even the slightest subtlety. No hint of remorse over losing his son, or regret over letting society dictate his feelings. Nothing to make him three-dimensional.
Actors Lev Gorn, Christian Johnstone, and Steve Luker are all fine, with Gorn standing out in places. All, I’m sure, would fare well with better material. The set is simple with carpet-covered benches at different levels that are underused.