By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
Ominous techno music engulfs the expectant audience at the Museum of Art Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale. The stage is barren except for a black office chair and desk. The desk is covered with a black cloth. As if the title of the play, The Penis' Responses to the Vagina Monologues isn't enough, the play's director, Dean Doe, sets the tone when he reminds the audience to turn off all beepers and pagers but encourages them to leave the devices on vibrate. He adds that no flash photography is allowed, "but you can flash us if you want."
About 30 minutes into the show, people begin to get stiff and shift in their seats. One couple gets up and leaves halfway through. A woman follows. As soon as the performance ends, people race for the door. A couple of women almost sprint. "That was distasteful," I hear someone exclaim. A few other people appear to have cornered the director and are asking for their money back. Outside the theater a mob of senior citizens gather, complaining about the play's language and the poor acting. Pretending to be the male response to Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, The Penis' Responses is not just bad, it's wrong. It is a hybrid of outdated Catskills humor turned raunchy, Love, American Style lechery and flagrant misogyny.
The concept of the play is an interesting one. Cowritten by Chicagoans Dr. Dean Dauw and Jane Doe, The Penis' Responses was intended to be a rebuttal to Ensler's acclaimed play. As Dr. Dauw explains, "I saw The Vagina Monologues over a year ago at the Apollo Theater in Chicago, and I walked out of the theater thinking, I can do better than this." Based on interviews in which women talk about sex, The Vagina Monologues has been criticized by some as being anti-male. Collaborating with Jane Doe, a journalist and performance artist he has known for more than 15 years, Dauw set out to even the score and give the penis its say.
Dauw, an ex-Catholic priest turned sex therapist, has been privy to numerous tales of male sexual angst. But alas, knowledge and experience do not always translate to good writing, as is abundantly clear with this production. For all of his exposure to the sexually traumatized and dysfunctional, his monologues are strikingly mediocre. This is not so much due to content as form. The Vagina Monologues deals with many unremarkable situations: women who are insecure about their bodies, infidelity, and so on, but the writing and acting were so well done in the production I saw, they became a concert of enigmatic soliloquies. Penis' Responses claims Dr. Dauw has helped everyone from "altar boys to boys who have been altered." But what he provides his theatrical audience is not a set of monologues or even theater for that matter, just a trail of poorly written anecdotes that are crude to the point of being offensive. The program lists acts with the following sorts of descriptions: "Act II: The Shower. I Kawnt Wate has a virginity problem and needs Dr. Love's sex-pertise," or "Act VIII: Franken-gina. Ima Mann lost his penis and his manhood at circumcision." While these sexual misspellings and the fact that the play has no clearly discernable act or scene change are a bit bothersome, what we see on-stage is even more disturbing.
The main character, Dr. Love (a thinly veiled take on Dauw), has the following to say on male sexuality: A man's wife is in a rest home, comatose, and orderlies notice while giving her a sponge bath that she is responding to touch, so they tell her husband to give her oral sex in hopes it will revive her. When they return he is standing over her bed and crying. The doctors ask, "What happened?" and the man says, "She's dead. She must have choked."
Dr. Love explains to us that God gave man a penis so he could pee quickly and it wouldn't interfere with beer-drinking and sports-watching. Woman didn't get a penis because she had to stay in the cave looking after the young ones.
A growing sense of disbelief descends. Can this really be happening? There's even a Janet Reno joke: Priests were getting so horny listening to confessions that now every confessional is required to have a photo of Janet Reno. Badda boom.
Dr. Love refers to "pussy" as a time-share. Again, can this really be happening? It's no wonder a group of senior citizens and condo-association members threatened to protest the play en masse Friday, June 15. (A half-hour before that evening's show, however, no protestor was in evidence.)
While Dr. Love sits in his doctor's chair pontificating, Queen Bee stomps around and looks huffy. Our Queen is dressed in glittery green tights and a black mini skirt and has wings attached to her arms, which she whips around maniacally, depicting a sort of light S&M package. But what is her role? Why is she dressed up as a bee? Looking to the program for answers, I find the following: "Jane Doe is Queen Bee. She incubated her larvae for many years.... Dr. Dauw was the key to unlocking the mysteries of her Queen Beeness through his self-esteem and affirmative life approach. He nurtured Queen Bee from larvae to Queenie and continues to nourish her Queen Bee-ey needs such as providing her with the opportunity to participate in Penis' Responses to the Vagina Monologues."