Boys Will Be Young Male Humans

The Jungle finds men behaving predictably; Gaia's feminine comique

 A cliché by definition is impotent, enervated by overuse. Yet that overuse bespeaks an evolutionary fitness that can't derive solely from lazy writing, speech, and thought. For some sportscaster, "the bottom line" must remain a powerful metaphor. At the end of the day, this is a paradox we all must come to terms with. See, clichés, like yawns, are infectious. Point the finger at one, and you find yourself resorting to another.

The press materials for the Jungle Theater's Separating the Men from the Bull (the mikeandneal show) promise seven "vignettes" while the program trumpets a "tour-de-force comedy." On the way home, I started grumbling about semi-fancy Gallicisms laboring to gussy up a not-bad-but-often-cliché collection of what at the Bryant-Lake Bowl or Brave New Workshop would probably be called "sketches." As if labeling them "cliché" wasn't itself a semi-fancy French pinch hitter for my first thought, which if memory serves was either "not funny enough" or "kind of dumb at times."

That's not to say that this show, an exploration of male friendship written and performed by New Yorkers Michael Heintzman and Neal Lerner, is a total waste of time. The duo are friends themselves, and it shows. They have, as goes the cliché, chemistry, and their easygoing rapport is more amusing than a cylindrical wooden container chock-a-block with primates. There's very funny stuff in their routine about a companionless guy and the officious head of a friend-finding service. Some of the scenes are in fact too refined to be called "sketches," instead being dappled with moments of emotional depth (the tender Act 2 closer ends the show on a high note). This is a buddy show that's as much about loneliness as friendship, and I like how it resists neat resolutions.

Your average, horny guys: Michael Heintzman and Neal Lerner
Ann Marsden
Your average, horny guys: Michael Heintzman and Neal Lerner

And to return to cliché, we should remark upon the commonplaces this comedy about men doesn't surrender to. There are no bits about semi-literate football fans, remote-control hogs, or lost motorists too proud to ask for directions. Overfamiliar portraits, though, find an opportunity to wheedle their way onstage. There's a scene about two middle-aged gay friends, at least one of whose feelings run deeper than friendship, that concludes on a poignant note but wastes too much time with limp wrists and Streisand references before getting there.

Another scene involves two 10-year-old boys--one Christian, one Jewish--talking sex and religion during a backyard campout. Part of the joke is how blithely the kids accept stereotypes--Jews are lousy at team sports and have lots of money--and how zestfully they trade in sexual misinformation. That may be the point, but it feels like an excuse to trot out lame ethnic humor and cutesy-pie naughtiness. The scene devolves into some sort of pornographic edition of Ranger Rick when the gentile's older sister is espied masturbating with a dildo, which like all teenage girls she enjoys doing with the shades open and the lights on.

 

If a so-so comedy by and about men doesn't lend buoyancy to your sea vessel, let me direct you to a so-so comedy mainly by and about women. The Gaia Collective's Funny Girlz Cabaret pays tribute to distaff wits by any means necessary and otherwise: interpretations of essays by Margaret Atwood and Molly Ivins, a Betty Boop lip-sync, Dorothy Parker quips, a performance of the Oklahoma! tune "I Can't Say No." There are also some penned-from-scratch pieces, including a nicely acted roundtable on The Golden Girls and a collage of ad pitches that culminates in an homage to photographer Sandy Skoglund.

It's a spirited and not unpleasant evening, but one with no real highlight and a few glaring lows. Namely, Ivins's piece on country music hasn't aged well (key point: country songs are often amusingly titled), and feels stuck on the page in this reading, while send-ups of Dolly Parton and a Parker Posey groupie nestle somewhere between facile and pointless. Still, I may never look at The Golden Girls in the same way again, which considering that I didn't plan to look at it any way again, is a possibility that I'll need a few more weeks to consider.

 
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