The lights come on and a countdown begins, to what we don’t know.
A solitary figure stands on stage, framed by a wide circle of light fittings that resemble a 1950s idea of the inside of a space ship.
The lanky skinny guy on stage (coincidentally named Guy) kneels to pop a pill, snort a line, and then stands to “administer” the second pill left lying lonely on the oval mirror. He replaces the mirror on the wall and wishes himself a happy birthday.
So begins the roller coaster ride centred around three men struggling with their sense of self and a countdown…to what we don’t know.
Brendan Cowell’s Men opened on July 2, returning to its original home at the Old Fitz Theatre where it premiered in 2000. The play later enjoyed successful tours to Edinburgh and New York.
This new Red Line Productions effort stars Sean Hawkins as successful and smooth Jules “the leopard”, Ben O’Toole as sexually obsessed virgin Crazy Bob, and Jamie Timony as drug-addled Guy. Cheree Cassidy plays Haizel, the ever patient if somewhat patronising woman whose sole aim appears to be to secure semen in specimen containers she conveniently carries with her.
This is a young and vibrant cast and the script has some fine moments: “all this virginity is burning me up”, screams Crazy Bob while Jules the “leopard” ruminates that he “can see” himself with Taylor Swift. Haizel, however, chastises them for their weakness as the countdown edges towards launch: “Men are nothing. Pepsi wishing they were Coke.”
Alexander Berlage’s lighting design adds an other worldly touch in the small space and works well with Jed Silver’s sound design, especially in the last scene.
Director Jessica Tuckwell (Bell Shakespeare, Griffin) does a good job bringing together all the elements of this play about men’s identity. Some of the performances in an otherwise entertaining production could be toned down a notch in such an intimate space as the Old Fitz, especially Crazy Bob’s initial scene.
A little more nuance would also help the audience navigate through the angst and insecurity of the characters who struggle to establish and retain their sense of identity. Charming, attractive, co-operative man or violent abuser? Sex machine or impotent sexually insecure virgin? Sensitive and supportive loving man or drug-crazed suicidal maniac?
And what is the countdown to? Launch of a sperm race to establish breeding rights or something entirely different? You’ll need to see the play to decide for yourself.
Brendan Cowell’s Men will be at the Old Fitz Theatre in Woolloomooloo until July 25.