MAN CARD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE MIND OF THE SENSITIVE WHITE MALE
THE ANGRY SHOW
At first glance, sociopathic teenage cheerleaders and sensitive white guys may not seem to have much in common, but at the Factory Theater hilarious studies of these groups reveal some amazing similarities. Both speak in codes not readily understandable by anyone outside their peer group, both fear or belittle that which they do not immediately understand, both will go to great lengths to get what they want while trying to appear as though they don't really want it, and the thing they cherish above all is acceptance by their respective circles.
The all-male cast in Bitches tackles an exclusively feminine crisis--how you react when you don't make cheerleader--and does it so exquisitely that the misogyny implied by the title and the concept is never an issue. Of course, the concept is not what you would call farfetched, coming as it does straight from the evening news--teenage girl and her mother stoop to nothing short of murder to assure the girl a place on the cheerleading squad. Playwright Sean Abley, codirecting here with Amy Seeley, gives this scenario a sensitive and witty treatment, and the drag performances are either so excellent they're spooky or so outrageous they throw the whole situation into an even more absurd light.
Popular teen-queen Sindee (Abley) is devastated when she doesn't make the squad, and her mother Charlene (Mike Meredith, charmingly masculine despite the housecoat) is no help. Bingeing on a bag of Fritos, Sindee tearfully relays the news to her mother, who reacts by slapping her upside the head for accepting such a crippling defeat. Charlene advises Sindee to find a way back onto the squad, pronto, "and when you're done with those Fritos go make yourself throw up because it's almost dinner." Sindee vows vengeance on the girl who displaced her, sweet sophomore Angelatina (Kirk Pynchon, a terrific ingenue), and bullies her friends into carrying out various schemes designed to send Angelatina, if not to the morgue, at least to the bathroom for an extended stay.
What's glorious about this production is the weird sense of nostalgia it calls up. You don't have to have been a cheerleader in high school to remember the tension of friendships where three or more girls were involved and the politics of life within a clique. Sindee's power over her friends, the quicksilver loyalties wavering under the slightest pressure, the casual cruelties--all of them ring true, even when dressed up in camp. You actually feel for Angelatina when, hustled by Sindee's clique into believing she's been accepted, she does the splits from pure joy, chirping "I'm popular! I'm popular!" while her mother looks on, comfortable and clueless. During Angelatina's slumber party, where diaries are read aloud and cookies and Diet Coke consumed, it occurred to me only very late in the scene that I was thoroughly empathizing with a group of men in Dr. Dentons.
The performances here are all excellent, each actor moving easily from honesty to absurdity within the blink of an eye. Outstanding is Jim Blanchette as Angelatina's prim, beatific mother and Carl Andruskevich as the ballsy phys ed instructor who kicks Sindee off the squad. Kirk Pynchon also provides some bitchin' cheerleader routines in which the men do themselves proud.
In Man Card: A Journey Through the Mind of the Sensitive White Male, Bitches cast members Pynchon and Jesse Dienstag take off their skirts and give us an hour's worth of their own short sketches about life as sometimes-sensitive guys. Not only is it funny, it's informative. For instance, they offer a "Man-to-English, English-to-Man" dictionary that boils down an entire conversation between two men into the one simple exchange, "My penis is bigger than yours." Also offered: a basketball game where the insults fly faster than the ball, a public service announcement warning men against the dangers of "sharing" (emotions, not needles), and the effect of The Crying Game on a pair of staunch heterosexuals. The man card of the title is a sort of American Express card that you can flash in the event that you don't feel like getting shit-faced with the boys or watching football on Sunday afternoon--it excuses you from these activities with your manhood still intact. It will not, however, protect you if you do something as wimpy as ordering a salad.
Maybe I just don't get out enough, because this is the first time I've seen men satirize themselves (mostly their group behavior) so successfully. Surely it's been done before now? Perhaps it just hasn't been done by two performers as likable and unaffected as Dienstag and Pynchon. Aside from being very deft comedians, both physically and verbally, these two don't seem to have any sort of hidden agenda, no hint of self-congratulation in their act. They don't comment on the absurd behavior of their own sex in order to be excused for it, nor do they seem to consider themselves superior for observing it in the first place. They just present it with a kind of good-natured, energetic despair, as if to say that the best they can do with it is make us laugh.
Suffering greatly by comparison is The Angry Show, written and performed by Mike Meredith (also of Bitches) and Nick Digilio. Another series of sketches and monologues billed as "darkly humorous," the show is mostly a lot of bitching and pseudonihilism from two gentlemen who seem to watch too much TV. Eight out of the dozen or so sketches and monologues rely heavily on the audience's knowledge of movies and TV, past and present, and in the blackouts between the scenes we heard long, often unintelligible dialogue clips from various movies. (By the way, isn't it common knowledge that you can't keep an audience sitting in the dark for long before they become justifiably restless as hell?) In one of Digilio's monologues he actually relates an entire episode of The Adventures of Mark and Brian (for those of you who don't know, it was an insanely inane TV program last fall) in an effort to get us to see how dumb it was. Well . . . yeah. That's plain enough. So why are we listening to a recap of bad TV? And incidentally, the thing was canceled quickly so why is this guy in such a froth about it?
Also offered was some man-to-man tit talk--again, relying on our knowledge of not only pop culture but the tits of various women in pop culture. A running gag in which the two performers each took the name of a Hollywood actor or actress from a bowl and then made Academy Award presentations impersonating them never managed to get off the ground, partly because neither Meredith nor Digilio could mimic a single one of the luminaries they drew--Digilio couldn't even dredge up a passable Jerry Lewis. A sketch about an old-time vaudeville actor wreaking whoopee-cushion havoc in a serious drama called "I Have AIDS: Pity Me," leaves a bad taste in the mouth but is not quite offensive enough to be interesting. And Digilio's angry rant about white heterosexual males inheriting the earth (his shot at the Lenny Bruce Award) smacks of youthful self-righteousness. A white heterosexual male himself (admittedly), he is perfectly secure in the advantages of that position; a sermon about racial and sexual discrimination from someone belonging to the privileged class he is angrily berating is not destined to be well received by either his peers or the downtrodden he so valiantly defends.
"Everything sucks" is a popular stand to take, sure, but you have to back it up with something that doesn't, or you lose your audience real quick.