The fun of any theater festival is discovering new works and new voices and energetic approaches to storytelling. Of course, the risk is not all those voices are harmonious, not all of those works have merit.
The excitement, then, in realizing that The Show About Men (which I previewed here) — now at the Festival of Independent Theatres — is better and more surprising that I could have imagined, is palpable. The premise — a straight woman and her cast of men (a mix of gay/straight) brainstorm about the essence of manhood, and turn it into a show that’s part dance, part barroom sing-along, part standup and more — doesn’t do justice to this whimsical and insightful performance piece.
It starts as you might expect something experimental and self-consciously “edgy” to be: In darkened silhouette, six men line up on a stage, only in boxers, talking directly in epigrammatic observations. Then the music starts (all of the songs are original), and the catchy lyrics and engaging melodies draw you in, especially with a ribald sense of comedy: Dick… and balls / Hanging from my gut / Right between my thighs and adjacent to my butt …. And you get it: This show will be as diverse and crass and funny and sensitive and reflective as the male animal himself. The show is simply a hoot, and a true departure for FIT with its use so movement, song, jokes and real-life confessional stories.
The cast is uniformly good, though the standout is surely Colby Calhoun, whose insights into being a effeminate man in the modern world are stingingly funny and insightful. But all the stories — kind of grown-up versions of Free to Be You and Me — paint a hopeful yet complex picture of mahood.
The only bad thing about The Show About Men? For the other two performance this weekend (Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m.) it’s paired with Dangerous Things On Dark Nights by 2013 Booker T. grad Naomi Cohen. It’s logline — “It was written by a teen millennial … about teen millennials” misses the point that neither youth nor an in-person perspective are evidence of quality. It’s as if Cohen read For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, watched iCarly and listened to pop ballads from the ’70s and decided a mashup would be a good idea. It is not.
The play is a mess: Three largely uninteractive (but related) monologues by three teen girls and the petulant, misdirected actions that get them into trouble. They smoke and resist authority figures; they go out drinking and driving; they are embarrassed by their parents. Perhaps these are supposed to be insights, instead of the tritest of teenaged cliches; it’s hard to tell, since there isn’t an original idea bouncing around this slow, very poorly acted show. Duck out at intermission after seeing The Show About the Men, or catch it at one of its three other performances at FIT through Aug 1.