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The Penis Chronicles (Coast Playhouse)



 
Eve Ensler’s 1996 hit play, The Vagina Chronicles, has done well for itself by breaking through the difficulty of discussing women’s “private parts.”  They’ve proven that embarrassments, resentfulness, and fears tend to dissipate under the stagelights and the sunshine cleansing of truth.

So what is available to men to investigate?  Not much. Male nudity has, oddly, become a stronger norm on American stages than female nudity (the opposite applies to film).  So, any play which attempts to explain American male sexuality is welcomed, indeed, with or without the use of exposing men’s “private parts.”

Up steps author Tom Yewell (son of the late actor, Tom Ewell) to explore this fairly taboo subject, aided by film director Randal Kleiser at the helm.  Yewell’s interest is in all the disparate types of male sexuality:  old, young; straight, bi, gay, trans; well-built, saggy-built; big dicks, small dicks.  In eight monologues (with one bit of nudity), Yewell carefully presents these men examining their “private-part” psyche for us.

With some backdrop videos and excellent (if limited) original music (Greg O’Conner) used as segues between the scenes, the eight actors swiftly and professionally make Yewell’s words come alive.  First up is Trey (Kyle Eastman), 15, just a year after discovering the embarrassment of his erections and what they’re for, especially in his self-comparison with his athletic idol, #2, Brin, 25, (Aussie actor Ritchie Hoffman, sporting an impeccable American accent), followed by Roman (Ali Zahiri), 31, a self-described bi-sexual hustler, honest and charming, with his own flawless body, well shown.  #4 is his opposite, a mid-30s fattie, Artemis (Ozzie Rodriguez), a former high school jock who ruined his life on graduation night by driving drunk, crashing, and killing his sweetheart, Desireé, and is now using food as a substitute for love and sex.  #5 is Shane (Trevor Scott Campbell), gay and in his late 20s, a writer who fell in love with a circus performer, Toby, but who now lives alone with his horses.  #6 is Tor (Ethan Rains), the most obviously vulnerable of the bunch, an attractive heterosexual, who wears a hand-drawn H.I.V. on his chest in defiance of societal scorn.  #7 is Rhapsody Fontaine (Jade Willis), a gay transvestite whose sense of style and fierceness keeps him alive and thriving.  And, lastly, #8, the old man of the show, Stanton (Kelly Franett), a 67-year-old widower, father of the late Desireé, who now wonders about sex without his beloved Viagra.

Yewell has done a yeoman’s job of exploring these facets of his own personality, and Kleiser has cast and directed his fellows with great sensitivity.  Being billed as a World Premiere, this show is, say, 85% close to where it needs to be, but there are two areas – one major, one minor – which would help the notion of their show as an insight into the (often confused) male body-awareness: if their characters could talk more about how they feel about their penises:  cut, uncut, left or right bend, size, function – more detail – it would help build the other development, a summing up on how Yewell feels about his subject.  At the moment, it’s all a bit too facile; more complication (or more detail) would add dramatically.

The evening, while amusing and fascinating, still feels unfinished.  After this run, before it goes anywhere else, the two men might want to see where such a summation could easily (and significantly) fit in.

As such, it is in many ways a valuable exploration of how men exhibit themselves, secretly or on display.  The actors are all meticulous in their courageous examinations of their characters, especially Willis, Rains and Eastman, and one wouldn’t be wrong to see and enjoy this production.  Interestingly, opening night was pretty well split between straight women and gay men.  Now, if only straight guys found the balls to come and hear onstage what they secretly talk about late at night, we’d all profit.

The Penis Chronicles, Every Man’s Journey, plays through December 14th, 2014, at the Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA.  Tickets:  1-323/960-7787 or at www.plays411.com/penischronicles.