Separating the Men from the Bull
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 28, 2006
I've seen Daniel Jenkins play Mark Twain (in Big River) and Louis Ironson (in Angels in America), to name just two terrific performances. But I don't think either felt quite so indelible as his portrayal of Clyde, a lusty stud bull, in Separating the Men from the Bull. This new production from the Unofficial New York Yale Cabaret features Jenkins and Neal Lerner in seven vignettes about male relationships of varying stripes, styles, and species, and the heart-to-heart that Clyde has with his currently impotent pal Teddy is merely the cleverest in an evening of warm-hearted, witty fun. Lerner—no slouch in the acting department himself—is also the co-writer of the show, with Mike Heintzman. Under Becky London's brisk and unobtrusive direction, both actors and both writers sparkle.
But let me get back to Jenkins as Clyde: I don't know precisely how he does it, but he actually becomes bovine (as opposed to a man pretending to be a cow: he is a cow). He's not wearing a cow suit, just a little hat with cardboard horns on it, and he's obviously sitting on a straight-backed chair. But his whole posture, especially his hands, folded unnaturally into "hooves," suggests bull-itude; when he launches into a (slightly modified) version of "Fly Me to the Moon" at the finale of this delightful sketch, like some sort of four-legged Sinatra, accenting the song's title ("mooooon") and hammily (to mix animal metaphors for a moment) selling the line "in UDDER words..."—well, it really is stage magic.
Elsewhere in the play, Jenkins portrays a man who has come to an agency to hire someone to be his friend; a man who has accidentally shot his best friend while deer hunting and now is being told just how he can make that up to him; a Catholic boy sharing conversation and other stuff with his next door neighbor, a Jewish kid; the co-host of "ShyTalk," a cable access show for the introverted; a gay man stuck in a disco bar with his best friend, with whom he is in love; and a painter who, with a longtime friend, is on his way to bury the ashes of a recently departed loved one. Jenkins makes all seven of these men interesting, fully-formed individuals, as does his co-star Lerner with his characters. These disparate stories come together to form a neat cross-section of friendships, without pushing too hard to arrive at a particular moral or theme.
Mostly, the pieces are just very funny. The one about the little boys is hilarious, artfully capturing the wild innocence of youth as it shows us these two kids wondering (and sharing misinformation) about sex and plotting to run away to California, where they can get jobs at Sea World or the San Diego Zoo. The piece set in the gay bar starts off arch but becomes wise and touching by its conclusion; even more genuinely affecting is the last scene, in which two men sail down a stream to find the exact spot where their friend Janet has asked to have her ashes spread.
The atmosphere, as at the last UNNYC show that I attended, is relaxed and informal and pub-like, with drinks available in the theatre that you can bring to your seat (seating is at round tables arranged comfortably around the room).
I should add that Jenkins performed on crutches at the show reviewed, having just torn ligaments in one knee. He's a trouper and then some; so is Lerner, who did double-duty bringing props and costume pieces to the less mobile Jenkins. Their teamwork epitomized what Separating the Men from the Bull is ultimately all about—the rare bonds that make any copasetic pairing into something much bigger than the sum of its parts.