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February 16, 2010 | by  | in Theatre |
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What’s in a Man?

Theatre

This particular piece of the Fringe Festival begins with a serious question: what, in all honesty, is in a man? It ain’t just a y-chromosome. Gone are the days of Olaf the hairy-lairy Viking—man can no longer solve all his problems with a swing of his axe. This is the twenty-first century—man needs feelings and shit to survive in our po-mo, po-fem world. But it’s a proper question, being raised across the world—what is a legitimate display of masculinity? Universities are beginning to see a rise in “Men’s Groups” looking to support the average man through the concrete jungle, but these face criticism from feminist groups and many men who think men should just “man up and deal with it”.

Anyway, I’m supposed to talk about the play and not the issues surrounding men in the world. That was the play’s job, right?

Ah…

About that.

BT5W’s show is a confused beast. Like modern man it doesn’t seem to know either what it wants to be, or what it feels it should be. The script, as written by Josh Samuels with Merrilee McCoy and Wiremu Tuhiwai, is little more than a series of jokes sparsely spread throughout a very tenuously connected narrative. Before I raise my issues, I just want to say that I laughed failry often, and when I did I laughed hard. Josh Samuels and Wiremu Tuhiwai clearly have talent at performing comedy. When they hit a joke, they hit it good. But there are probably a few too many jokes that simply weren’t funny in the script.

It didn’t help that the scenes hoping to be part of a larger story were divided by some of the worst transitions I’ve seen in Wellington theatre in some time. The performers literally just move behind a screen to change costume elements while the audience sits bathed in blue light waiting for the next thing to happen. It drains the energy to such an extent that I remain amazed the men on stage were able to recover my interest at all. And they did, when they decided to trust in their comedic ability and their ability to bombard me with jokes. If I found a joke unfunny, I didn’t care as long as I was laughing soon after.

The show falls apart when it tries to be something it’s not. What’s in a Man? gets all serious like and loses its way. It was a show that inspired me to write the word puerile three times in quick succession in my notebook—this is a not a good place to try to hit me with a moral, or a message. The show never tried to investigate the stereotypes of masculinity, it merely portrayed them. In fact it merely portrayed only a few of them. It seems to me to be too serious a question to be treated so poorly. The set is functional, the lights are functional, the sound is functional, the performances range from the entertaining and satisfying (comedy) to the cringe-worthy (serious).

The problem is that no matter how hard everybody worked, the script ended up bringing the play down—when it tries to tie itself together at the end, and tries to preach to us (and preach to us it does) about what it is to be a man, it does so with all the subtlety of the hammer of Thor. And we’ve already discussed how a swing of the axe ain’t such a problem solver these days. Worse than this, the unsubtle preaching seems to be in response to the wrong question. “What’s in a man” becomes “what’s in a dad” and resolves itself with a truism: a good dad should be a good dad, aye?

It’s a shame. There is a nugget of a very good show in here, but the evening stinks of a show without direction, without a voice to question purpose or quality, without the eye that sees the flaws and spots a way to fix them. What’s in a Man? loses itself in its own final frontier but there is a concept and a few ideas from which something could be born. This just isn’t it.

Paul Waggot

What’s in a Man?
Written by Josh Samuels with Merrilee McCoy and Wiremu Tuhiwai
Directed by Merrilee McCoy
With Josh Samuels and Wiremus Tuhiwai

At BATS theatre (www.bats.co.nz)
4–12 Febuary 2010
book@bats.co.nz / (04) 802 4175

Part of the Wellington Fringe Festival 2010

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