"Dualing Realities" at Harcourt Park Stage
A Review by Greg Bumerli
One of the perks of freelancing is that occasionally the paper will give you a pair of tickets to see the hot new show on opening weekend. One of the drawbacks, is that you're then expected to go. Thus it was that on a drizzly latesummer's eve I dragged my roommate to "Dualing Realities," the new play opening at Harcourt Park. I say "dragged" because, while I was looking forward to the evening (meaning as it did a forthcoming check for the inevitable review), my roommate Brigid would generally rather stick her arm down a garbage disposal than go anywhere near a theater.
Well, in this case, Brigid had the right of it. Although the playwright's identity is an open secret, being listed as "Lady Nemo" on the playbill, I can see why she wouldn't want her name attached to this. The only problem is, shame isn't what led her to put on this charade. I found her in the lobby during the intermission and asked her what the deal with "Lady Nemo" was and in her own words, she felt that having an anonymous author "removes the play from the shackles of NOW, and sets it free to tell its truth for the ages." Had I known this was her attitude going in, I would have been able to mentally prepare myself for the ordeal that lay ahead.
My first inclination that something might be amiss, of course, was the title. Nobody calls a play something like "Dualing Realities" unless they intend to start something. The second inclination was when the lights came up to reveal, stage left, a man in makeup and earrings surrounded by a cascade of flowers; stage right, a woman in a vinyl and spandex, er, costume.
Brigid, always one to get right to the point, said, "Good god, the woman is dressed as a giant rubber penis."
The man said, "Yin." The woman said, "Yang." And then the sketches began.
Apparently intended as a sort of latter-day Dubliners (and/or Winesburg, Ohio), "Dualing Realities" is structured as a series of sketches that expand on the theme of "male perspective" vs. "female perspective," usually by either gender-flipping cliché scenes (lady executive patronizing male secretary, for instance) or by putting either a man or a woman into a situation normally reserved for the other gender (such as a party of men giving a baby shower to a father-to-be, and a party of women watching 'the big game' while quaffing beer and eating barbeque). All very typical Men-From-Mars Women-From-Venus stuff, punctuated by incoherent and vaguely creepy monologues by Captain Flowers or Penis Girl.
My roommate's carefully-considered declaration, "if I'm told that I'm a special jewel surrounded by a world of insensitive clods one more time, I'm going to take a knife to somebody," about sums that aspect up.
The finale of the show, the thing that caused all the brouhaha and generally put "Dualing Realities" on the map, is of course the ending sketch. Intended as an inverse parody of porn flicks, the sketch is about a man named Manuel (as opposed to "Emmanuelle," I'm informed) who goes around in extremely skimpy shorts and jumps into bed with anyone and everyone he meets, male or female, all the while giving speeches about how he can't help himself, he's only a man. Of course, to keep from getting arrested, there's no actual engaging in pornographic acts, except for the famous mansnoggery that raised such eyebrows in the advertising posters.
This was Brigid's favorite part of the show; she laughed heartily the whole time. I personally found it more peculiar than anything else. With the exception of the skimpy shorts, I can name half a dozen men off the top of my head who would eagerly have filled Manuel's place. I take it that it was supposed to bring burning shame down on male viewers for the degradations women have suffered in porn flicks, but what the author totally fails to realize is that the average male sees "being a sex object" as a consummation devoutly to be wish'd, not some kind of negation of their value as a human being. Far from being ashamed, I expect that a significant portion of what few men were in the audience would have happily asked "Lady Nemo" where they could sign up.
Once all that mess ended, we were treated one last time to several minutes of baffling pronouncements from the flowers and his friend in the rubber suit. I still haven't made up my mind of whether it was intentional or not that the house lights came up and everybody started to trickle out while they were still talking.
Brigid's one-sentence review of the play was: "Awful, but at least I got to see men kissing." For myself, I found the whole thing about a subtle as being hit over the head with a waffle iron, and about as enjoyable. I also have an unaccountable desire to watch football.
Greg Bumerli has been published in The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and several smaller periodicals, and is the author of Retrograde Maneuvers. His newest book, Funny Looks, is due to be released early next year.
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