March 11, 2010
By Brendan Cowell, Straightjacket Productions, 45 downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, March 8-21
“BRENDAN Cowell’s debut play, Men, is a savage comic dissection of the male psyche. This production throws star power at it – with some of our better-known TV actors on the stage.
Three men are trapped in a room awaiting a moment of reckoning. Guy (Samuel Johnson), Jules (Jay Bowen) and Bob (Justin Rosniak) are dire caricatures of male dysfunction.
Guy is the tortured one, insulating himself from the feeling world via a terrifying drug habit. Jules is a narcissist. Power is his drug of choice and his impeccably groomed exterior masks a beast within. Bob is a slave to his penis – sex is an all-consuming obsession, though he spends more of his life talking about it than doing it.
In the background is a woman, Haizel (Georgia Bolton), a puppet master of sorts who hovers above the chest-banging and drug-fuelled rants, the testosterone and performance anxiety, waiting to claim what she needs.
Director Sarah Hallam keeps the production running in overdrive, emphasising verbal and physical comedy and confrontation. It’s slick and entertaining, although moments of drama aren’t always given enough ballast to anchor the pervasive sense of comic futility.
Still, the performances are animated and charismatic. More of the likes of Johnson, Bowen and Rosniak working in theatre would be no bad thing. Johnson comes closest to realising the tragicomic potential of his role. Bowen is a convincing narcissist, but loses intensity at a pivotal juncture; and Rosniak focuses high-beam hilarity on a common male failing.
A friend of mine is convinced that women will eventually discover a way to continue the species without men, and that – if we survive at all – men will become a slave race. In the Machiavellian figure of Haizel, the play seems to embody this anxiety.
Luckily, when the play’s final mystery is revealed, it holds out some hope for us. As long as the world has room for the ridiculous, we’ll have our niche.”
See the review on The Age website