The eight largely unrelated monologs about sex and love (from a male point of view) that comprise The Penis Chronicles: Every Man’s Journey make Tom Yewell’s World Premiere drama seem at times more acting class showcase than full-fledged play. Still, there are enough fine performances in its mostly well-written one-man playlets to make The Penis Chronicles worth a look-see by those who don’t mind its lack of character interaction or cohesive storyline.
The boys-to-men we meet could not be a more eclectic bunch, ranging in age from sixteen to sixty-seven and in sexual orientation from straight to bi to gay to as-yet undecided.
Prepubescent sixteen-year-old Trey (understudy A. Jack Morocco) finds himself bullied in gym class for his hairless body and little boy’s penis. Southern-accented 20something Brin (Ritchie Hoffman) has had his sexual development arrested by memories of going camping with his cock-exposing, finger-straying father. 30ish Harvard MBA-grad Roman (understudy Frederik Hamel) finds his life a good deal more satisfying as a well-paid, well-hung hooker than it was as a Wall Street trader.
Onetime high school football star Artemis (Ozzie Rodriguez) drugs himself with food to dull the pain of some rather unbearable guilt—and has the gut to show for it. Gay hottie Shane (Trevor Scott Campbell) has spent the past ten years pursuing one anonymous trick after another, the result of a boyhood obsession with a near-naked, decidedly well-endowed albeit entirely fictional circus boy.
Tor (understudy John Young) is a straight man who wears his HIV-positive status quite literally on his chest. Sexagenarian Stanton (Kelly Franett) waxes nostalgic on pussies penetrated back when he could come three times in row without need of Viagra. Transwoman Rhapsody Fontaine (understudy Jordan Michael Frink) celebrates the surgically-enhanced eyes, nose, and tits she’s paid for by way of the ten-inch protuberance still tucked in under her mini-dress.
Director Randal Kleiser not only elicits eight strong performances from both regulars and understudies but insures that his actors make effective use of the Coast Theater stage. Still, an evening of monologs is an evening of monologs, and audience members may find themselves wishing that playwright Yewell had found ways for his characters to actually interact.
Though half the main cast was taking the night off at the performance reviewed, I’d defy anyone without a program to guess who was understudying and who had been rehearsing since day one and performing since opening night.
Among original cast members, Rodriguez does particularly moving work as Artemis, Franett is a dynamic stage presence as Stanton, Hoffman couldn’t make for a more charming Southern boy, and Campbell has the looks and acting chops to be the next CW/MTV heartthrob.
As for the understudies, a seductive Hamel allows us to see Roman’s tender side as well as his shirtless sex-appeal, Morocco is quite touching as spunky child-man Trey, Young’s Tor has a compelling stage presence (and provides the evening’s sole full-frontal flashing), and Frink simply could not make for a more fabulous Rhapsody.
Yewell’s characters are well drawn, and with one exception, their monologs have the ring of authentic speech, with only Tor’s soliloquy coming across as pretentious performance art. Still, Rhapsody Fontaine appears to have popped in out of another play entirely, her monolog seems a questionable choice to end the piece, and the play itself cries out for a climactic scene to tie everything together.
An uncredited scenic design offers the actors a stage on which to perform and not much else, leaving it up to Austin Burkett’s lighting, Cricket S. Myers’ sound design, Greg O’Connor’s original music, and Brian Perez’s video editing to keep things interesting, which they do.
The Penis Chronicles is presented by Kleiser, O’Connor, and Yewell in association with Regina Pugliese and Leslie Rudes. Evan Bates is technical director. Mani Perezcarro and Lonnie Henderson are production managers, the former doubling as stage manager.
If only muted applause greeted last night’s Penis Chronicles, the lack of enthusiastic cheers may have been a mostly gay male audience’s response to not having been delivered the contemporary Boys In The Band and/or nudity its title and poster art appeared to suggest.
For those who know what they are getting into, however, The Penis Chronicles provides an intriguing look at male sexuality (though perhaps not the “every man’s journey” it promises).
Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.
January 3, 2014
Production stills: Brian Perez
Photos of Campbell, Franett, Hoffman, and Rodriguez by Greg Gorman.