Review: The male of the species, under glass and onstage
“The Penis Chronicles” has extended at the Coast Playhouse, which is understandable, and, given that venue’s long-dark status, heartening.
Tom Yewell’s study of the male experience isn’t necessarily the counterpart to Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” that its obviated title suggests. Less political or variegated, this series of eight single-person accounts nonetheless reveals noteworthy writing ability and features solid, credible acting from a well-chosen cast.
Starting with Kyle Eastman, whose arrested pubescent opens the proceedings. Although director Randal Kleiser doesn’t mine all the humor in the monologue, Eastman’s sincerity and unaffected charm goes far to convince us of his plight.
Following this is the subtle Richie Hoffman, whose Southern-born character has been set up in the previous account, and who gives the slightly truncated-feeling narrative of inappropriate paternal behavior his all.
So does Ali Zahiri, a particular standout as an unusually eloquent and self-confident male escort, whose considerable physical appeal is nothing compared with his uncanny ability to maintain focus while directly addressing each audience member. Ozzie Rodriguez brings deep emotional currents and affecting technique to his former football star gone to seed, another example of author Yewell’s thoughtful intertwining of previous and future referenced characters.
Trevor Scott Campbell hasn’t got quite as much material to work with as a Toby Tyler-worshiping gay man, but he registers the boyish aspects most effectively. Ethan Rains is fearless and fervent as an HIV-positive heterosexual, even if his similar appearance to Zahiri blurs the distinctions a bit.
Kelly Franett pulls absolute authority out of his culminating aging widower, a candidate for single best turn, and though Jade Willis isn’t an obvious choice for a drag queen, he certainly devours the attitude and material.
It’s a handsomely staged production, with special assets in Cricket S. Myers’ typically astute sound design and Brian Perez’s apt videos.
That said, there isn’t a lot being said here that we haven’t encountered elsewhere, whether at a Highways summer series or a Taper Too extravaganza.
Moreover, the tone grows quite similar somewhere around the halfway mark, with director Kleiser demonstrating a skill with the poetic moments, less so the reflective ones. And more often than not, the undeniably clever uncovering of relationships outstrips the variable thematic allusions to the titular member and its place in men’s lives -- this may be a fully-fledged play waiting to be formed out of its disparate parts.
Still, it’s lovely to have the Coast in operation again, and the essential skill on board gives these promising “Chronicles” genuine value and fascination, which bodes well for its progress.
“The Penis Chronicles,” Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 11. Mature audiences. $30. (323) 960-7787 or www.thepenischronicles.com. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
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