Thinking Makes It So
nytheatre.com review by John Jordan
April 11, 2007
When Examined Man Theatre sets out to accomplish a task, it certainly succeeds. The company's mission statement reads:
Examined Man Theatre is dedicated to presenting plays, readings, and workshops that question, redefine, or otherwise explore societal standards of masculinity, and the pressures, motivations and consequences behind them. Our goal is to encourage our audiences to re-examine their own personal views on gender roles.
Now to be honest, I usually find mission statements to be a little wordy and rather formulaic, ultimately not really proving anything. I stand corrected, in this case, at least. Mission accomplished via Thinking Makes It So, a harrowing tale of male-on-male rape, written and directed by Damon Krometis.
The fourth wall is immediately broken as Sean enters and addresses the audience. We assume the role of therapist, listening to this young man tell us the story of how he was raped by another man, something he is not even fully aware of yet.
He acquaints us with the Joy Boys, made up of Ed, Brett, Joe, Corbin, Eric, and himself. They have been friends since they were kids. When they were 13 a teacher pegged them the Joy Boys so they figured why not go with it. They began a secret club, with rules such as the #1 "Bros Over Hos," which in this day and age, with the likes of the Imus scandal, is very relevant to how men, and even 13-year-old boys, think sometimes.
The boys grow up, attend the same college, and join the same fraternity. They still secretly consider themselves the Joy Boys at this point, and still have the same rules. But whenever the rules come into question, there is unrest. It's that masculine thing, where all the guys feel they have to go along with something no matter how stupid it is. One night Sean gets very drunk, and one of the other boys takes advantage of him.
Now the audience becomes jury as we hear the facts leading up to the rape from the different boys. No one admits to any wrongdoing. No one admits to being gay. Did anyone do anything wrong? Is anyone gay? We are presented with the information, and left to decide for ourselves. Just like Sean.
Taking on a sizeable portion of the weight of this one-man show, Joe Curnutte gives a very impressive, natural, and believable performance as Sean. His immediate awkwardness and slight discomfort is neither underplayed nor overplayed, thus finding harmony with the audience from the get-go. Kind of like the lost puppy for which you cannot help but care.
As for Curnutte's characterizations of the other five Joy Boys, I had a difficult time distinguishing between a couple of them at times, especially through a "speed-round" of the characters having a conversation in a car, but overall he does a decent job. Admittedly, I was at the opening night performance, and this role is very demanding, not only emotionally but physically. Not to mention that these are Sean the character's characterizations of his friends, not the actor's. Therefore, the actor, Curnutte, is portraying Sean portraying each of these five fellows—a tough task for any accomplished actor.
Krometis more or less provides exceptional staging. He effortlessly leads Sean on a clearcut path to explain his situation to the audience, allowing the other boys to talk through Sean. He also finds appropriate and plentiful spots for humor.
A not-necessarily original idea to distinguish among the characters is used; however it works quite well. Except during the aforementioned "speed-round," each Joy Boy has a unique article of clothing or item attributed to him which Sean wears while portraying him. For example, whenever Sean "becomes" Joe he holds an oversized stuffed raccoon (Joe is overweight). Other items include a tie and a baseball cap. The first time each item is introduced Sean pulls it from a large gray case he carried on when he first entered. When each character is done speaking, Sean suspends the item on one of five wires hanging from the ceiling throughout the playing area, until needed again. On this bare stage, the image of these character-defining objects, each in its own light, is particularly effective.
Being fantastically controversial as it is, Thinking Makes It So left me with many unanswered questions. If a gay man and a straight man are friends, does the gay man always secretly lust after the straight man? Human nature is so oddly fragile; I do not think that question will ever disappear. Taking it one step further, as Krometis does (i.e., bringing rape into the mix) doesn't really leave much room for debate in that department. However, it does make for great theater—the kind of theater that makes you think and has a purpose, and that also happens to be original and entertaining at the same time.