Review by Michael Bracken
Mankind, by Robert O’Hara, at the Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, is, per its author, “a satiric cautionary tale.” It’s about Feminism, a Goddess-worshiping religion of the future, and, by extension, feminism as we know it today. Yet despite the sad state of affairs it sees looming down the road – the play takes place when women have been extinct for a hundred years – it didn’t make me feel the need for any additional caution. Cause and effect are not its strong suit. It doesn’t give a clue as to what one needs to be cautious about.
Even without women, mankind survives. And adapts. Gets pregnant and bears children. Or, in the case of Jason (Bobby Moreno) and Mark (Anson Mount), gets pregnant and doesn’t want to bear children.
The boys have a heated argument when Jason tells Mark he’s with child. They agree to terminate the pregnancy. But abortion is illegal and punishable with prison time. In fact, even inquiring about abortion is a criminal offense, as Jason and Mark learn the hard way. The government discovers and thwarts their nascent plan to abort. They spend much of the play in the slammer.
Jason gives birth, and it’s a girl, the only one to be born since women died out. She’s called Cry-Baby. Having negotiated a hefty fee, the couple appears on a cheesy television program, The Bob and Bob Show, hosted by Bob (Ariel Shafir) and Bob (David Ryan Smith). After being held for a while by each of her fathers, the baby is laid on a bassinet that looks like a small MRI table. She coughs, coughs blood, and dies in short order. There’s speculation her fathers killed her on purpose, but they claim it was poor air quality, a barb on the subject of climate change.
Despite the baby’s death, the fact that Mark fathered and Jason bore a woman-child makes them celebrities. They’re the darlings of Feminism, its second tier deities (the first tier being the Goddess and Cry-Baby). They go from forced confinement in prison to semi-forced confinement at Feminism’s new headquarters, where they’re attired in goofy sparkly robes and headdresses that call to mind the Statue of Liberty and an Eastern goddess (costumes by Dede M. Ayite).
Clint Ramos’s set is gussied up with fancy design touches like video screens and a large turntable that revolves during scene changes. But it’s not until we see his huge Cry-Baby statue, a golden Caucasian Buddha-like colossus in the form of a supine infant, that we really appreciate his visual flair. Robert O’Hara’s direction of his own work is generally more elaborate than the material warrants.
Religion and abortion are clearly targets of Mankind, but whether it hits them is another matter. Materialism – Jason and Mark won’t do anything unless they’re lavishly compensated – gets an honorable mention.
Religion commandeers Mankind by the end of the first act and dominates well into the second. The cult of the Goddess, we learn, has a violent side; one of its ten commandments is to kill all non-believers. There’s also a line – perhaps the funniest in the play – that “You cannot make up a religion,” which translates into of course you can. There’s a ceremonial rite just before intermission, not unlike those of the more formal Christian sects, with prayer cards distributed to encourage audience participation.
The abortion theme, with men getting pregnant, is good for a chuckle but can’t carry an entire play. Yes, Jason’s tummy gets big and he and Mark are forced to parent an unwanted child: the fruits of sexism are just as bad when men are the victims. But that point is made early on and doesn’t really go anywhere.
Despite their shaky material, Mount, and especially Moreno, shine as Mark and Jason. While everything and everyone around them flounders, they remain grounded. They bring solidity to a play that hasn’t quite found its footing.
Additional cast members include Stephen Schnetzer as Mark’s Father and Andre De Shields as Jason’s Father.
Through January 28th at the Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater (416 West 42nd Street). www.phnyc.org . Two hours with one intermission.
Photos: Joan Marcus