The Penis Monologues

Steve Luker in The Penis Monologues: Men Speak

(Photo Kerry Long)
Steve Luker in The Penis Monologues: Men Speak

(Photo Kerry Long)

I knew I was in for a rough night at the theater when I started looking at my watch five minutes into the show. The title of the play in question — The Penis Monologues: Men Speak — should have been my first warning indicator. Still, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but any hopes for a profound, entertaining, or even slightly interesting theater piece soon evaporated.

When Eve Ensler first presented The Vagina Monologues, she gave voice to a diverse cross-section of women who spoke out on a subject previously considered taboo. The Penis Monologues begins with a trio of men’s thoughts on the Ensler piece, which they found “interesting,” “exciting,” and “informative.” But their primary reaction is summed up as follows: “As we listened, learned, and digested everything before us, we wondered, what about us?” Yes, these men completely missed the point, and they continue to miss it throughout this travesty of a show.

The Penis Monologues is performed by three actors — Lev Gorn, Christian Johnstone, and Steve Luker — who portray a variety of men and offer additional commentary to transition from one scene to the next. The show is purportedly built around actual interviews that the cast members claim to have conducted. “We’ve talked to scores of men, of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities and backgrounds, ages and status, and we’ve put together the following monologues to reveal the feelings of those men and what they had to say on the topic of the penis,” they state early on. This starts the show on a false note, as none of the actors is given a writing credit in the program; Robert Watts is listed as both playwright and director. The work as a whole is wildly inconsistent in tone, making it unclear whether Watts is attempting to seriously address issues relating to the penis or if he’s simply — if you’ll pardon the expression — taking the piss.

Several portions of the show seem to be done with a wink, mimicking the earnest documentary style of such efforts as The Laramie Project. As Johnstone introduces one of the monologues, he says in an emphatic, pseudo-sincere way, “his story needed to be told.” Other sections of the play intentionally re-work Ensler’s text, such as when the three actors name all the slang terms for a penis (some of which seem to be made up), just as Ensler listed the different words for a vagina. But there are also a few sequences indicating that The Penis Monologues is trying to take itself seriously. For example, a monologue about a man suffering from penile cancer is obviously not meant to be a parody.

The main problem with the script, however, is that several of the monologues don’t ring true; they lead one to question whether or not Watts actually did the research that supposedly went into the show or if he just made it up as he went along. Luker portrays a gay man in the most stereotypically offensive manner that I’ve seen on stage in a long time. With a limp wrist, fey mannerisms, and ridiculously exaggerated body posture, this character melodramatically talks about his terrible relationship with his father. Gorn, playing a 72-year-old Jewish man, launches into an extended (and not very funny) sequence wherein he sings about the joys of using Viagra to the tune of the song “Maria” from West Side Story. Johnstone re-enacts a man’s experimentation with a penis pump, and when things go wrong, he mimes patting his penis and says, “You know what, little guy? I’m sorry. You’re good just the way you are. If the ladies don’t appreciate you, that’s their problem.” At this point in the show, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, so I settled on cringing silently in my seat.

Steve Luker, Lev Gorn, and Christian Johnstone in The Penis Monologues: Men Speak
(Photo Kerry Long)
Steve Luker, Lev Gorn, and Christian Johnstone
in The Penis Monologues: Men Speak
(Photo Kerry Long)

If the men portrayed in The Penis Monologues are actually based on real individuals, you have to wonder where Watts found them. One man talks about his desire to go out and rape women while another discusses being HIV-positive, cheating on his wife, and having unprotected sex with the women he fools around with. It’s not that I don’t believe such individuals exist, but the way they’re presented here is overwrought. Cheesy lighting effects (designed by David LaVigna) and overly dramatic musical underscoring (by Richard Hill and Geno Heiter) only makes things worse.

The actors often seem to be commenting upon or even mocking the characters they play, and there’s a glaring lack of diversity in the men represented. Questions of race, as they relate to the penis, are completely ignored. In fact, the only references to race or ethnicity are the Jewish Viagara user and the man with the malfunctioning penis pump, who calls the hated object a “dick-sucking Chinese man eater.”

The objective of this show may have been to present a complex picture of men’s lives as refracted through the stories they tell about their most private parts, but The Penis Monologues fails miserably in that regard. It also fails as a parody of such efforts as The Vagina Monologues. It does succeed in demonstrating how men can be selfish, misogynistic, homophobic, pathetic, and self-loathing, but I doubt that this is the message it intended to send.

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