Review: The Viagra Monologues (Off The Avenue Productions)

offtheavenueVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jun 16 – Jul 2, 2016
Playwright: Geraldine Brophy
Director: Samuel Allen
Cast: Tom Matthews, John Molyneux, Meynard Penalosa

Theatre review
Three male actors present a series of small episodes offering perspectives on life and humanity, through experiences of male sexuality. Like its very famous feminine predecessor, characters in The Viagra Monologues centre their stories on their genitalia. The pharmaceutical referenced in the title does not make frequent appearances, but its presence is a conspicuous metaphor figuring alongside ideas of masculinity and emasculation, which form the play’s main focus. An erect penis alone does not maketh the man, and we explore what it is that today’s man needs in order to find strength and spirit for his existence. Geraldine Brophy’s script is appropriately diverse in scope, with an admirable objective of portraying vulnerability within its very wide range of personality types. Virtually everything we see in the theatrical landscape involves men, but it is not a regular occurrence to see them only at their most vulnerable, stripped of every macho pretence.

Director Samuel Allen does well to create on the stage, distinct scenes and people who appeal in differing ways. The use of space has a tendency to be too basic and repetitive (and lighting design leaves much to be desired), but Allen’s attention to detail in performances provides an effective realism to all the stories we hear. It is an accomplished cast, balanced and cohesive in their efforts but each with their own idiosyncrasies. Tom Matthews entertains with a flamboyant edge to each of his depictions, John Molyneux is charismatic especially when playing young children, and Meynard Penalosa is captivating in his portrayals of emotional intensity. There are inconsistencies in their ability to delve into the fragility of each sequence, but when successful, the monologues take on a powerful poignancy that speaks deeply about the way we are, and how we treat each other.

These are stories about men, but written by a woman. The best of feminism benefits all, and it is the acknowledgement of the destructive qualities of manhood in these stories that make them meaningful. We observe a series of male characters in varying stages of intimate vulnerability, each exposing themselves in a way that real life (outside of the theatre) disallows. The men are beautiful when they bare all under this spotlight, but these are moments of imagination that, although truthful, are rarely encountered face to face, even with the ones we love. We make our men resilient, powerful and hard, as a matter of course, without stopping to think about the sacrifices involved. They soldier on, with all their softer sides buried and suppressed, but dark monsters manifest when we fail to take care.

Review: A Man Walks Into A Bar (Off The Avenue Productions)

offtheavenueVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Apr 21 – May 7, 2016
Playwright: David Geary
Director: Andrew Beban
Cast: Nina Marsh, Sam Newton, Chris Yaacoubian
Image by Angie Carmen Photography

Theatre review
Much can happen in the space of an hour, and when two people are telling quick quips about the time a man walked into a bar, 60 minutes can be filled with more than a few anecdotes. David Geary’s play is interested in people who go to bars, and the things that can happen in them. We observe life from one of its more mundane locations, trying to catch a reflection of what we look like in our day to day existences. Not every morsel is comedic, but they are all thoughtful fragments that we can relate to.

Nina Marsh and Chris Yaacoubian are individually strong performers who find good chemistry in a show to be remembered for its effervescence. Both have an enthusiastic approach to their material, keen to share jokes with an audience that they keep engrossed. Marsh impresses with a powerful singing voice that she features in several musical numbers, accompanied by Sam Newton whose guitar underscores beautifully the entire production. Yaacoubian is a solid and charming presence that gives the production a delightful sense of confidence. The show requires greater nuance, and more defined character variations in order that poignancy may be achieved, but it is a good effort that expresses interesting ideas.

A lot of what theatre wishes to do, is to find an understanding of the human condition, and to communicate at a level of universality. Art does not have to cater to the masses, but it should attempt to connect. The greatest component of live performance is its captive audience. It presents an opportunity to share experiences, which implies a requirement to first locate what it is that we hold in common. We many not all enjoy alcohol, and we may not all frequent watering holes, but it is human to crave the companionship offered by social spaces. When a stage is involved, we let the players take control, and they take on the responsibilities of friendship, if only for a short time. A Man Walks Into A Bar is effective when it strikes up intimate conversations that feel as though we are looking into someone’s soul, but less delightful when it trails off, getting caught up in its own moments of drunken stupor.