We men have always lived lives of quiet desperation. Only in the last 20 years or so have we been allowed, under certain carefully controlled, socially sanctioned circumstances--talk shows, sitcoms, performance pieces--to publicly discuss our desperation. Even then one runs the risk of being called a wuss, a wimp, or, worse, Phil Donahue. Which is why I'm so taken with west-coast performance artists Ernie Lafky, Sten Rudstrom, and Stokley Towles, who've put together an evening of individual and group performances comically exposing the most injurious aspects of the male mystique: the mixed messages (be good/be strong, go for it/wait your turn), the damaging dating rituals, the constant confusion--of sex with power, power with love, love with sex. As Towles describes one male conundrum: "You want her to know you are mean enough and tough enough to be her little snuggle bunny." Lafky, police baton in hand, delivers a hilarious, biting take on Boy Scout pep talks that brings to the surface all homophobic organization's darkest, most militaristic aspects. When I was a Cub Scout, in 1970, our ex-Marine leader eliminated field trips and craft projects in favor of a regular routine of push-ups, sit-ups, and duck walks the length of the gym floor so that we would one day be ready to "beat the Vietcong and the Red Chinese." Any troupe willing to help loosen the old male straitjacket is OK by me. Splinter Group Studio, 1937 W. Division, 342-7656. Opens Thursday, February 3, 8 PM. Through February 13: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $10. Also at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Art and Architecture Building, "Passion Pit" (third floor), 845 W. Harrison, 996-5412. Wednesday, February 9, 7 PM. Free.