Dallas — After a performance of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group)’s woman-themed NICE earlier this year, a patron jokingly remarked, “I suddenly feel bad about being a white, heterosexual male.”
It’s quite understandable. In an effort to illuminate and explore the plight of one group of people, another group tends to take a hammer to the face, either blatantly or subtly. That’s what makes DGDG’s offering of The Show About Men for the Festival of Independent Theatres presented at the Bath House Cultural Center one of the must-see events of the summer, an opinion formed even before the curtain opens. Georgiou’s works frequently have a feminist angle, so of course, a show exploring the opposite sex garners intrigue and curiosity.
The black box theater creates a cozy atmosphere, and an upright piano and six chairs draped with clothing set the stage for a simple yet frank affair. As the lights brighten, the six men clad only in undershirts and boxers ask the question, “Do you ever talk about fear?” with a strong cadence of sound and movement, reminiscent of a Greek chorus. What follows brings up more questions than answers.
Like most other full-length DGDG works, this one includes a mixture of dance, original music, and text to convey its message. It takes on the feel of a musical with original tunes by Trey Pendergrass and show co-creator Justin Locklear. The latter sings an honest song with Colby Calhoun, alluding to the societal expectations of what it means to be a man, while all members put on slacks, shirts, and coats.
The bulk of the performance finds each performer talking about moments that he felt defined him as a man or obstacles in the journey, while a duo or trio maneuver through various non-traditional partnering phrases as a physical depiction of the narration. These experiences include standing up to a father, firing an employee, mastering finances and employment, and physical prowess. Even though they each have unique moments, what typically has defined manhood had to do with power and conquering, and the influence of family over that stereotype is quite strong.
Sprinkled throughout are group interactions with an accompanying humorous song. It wouldn’t be a show about men if genitalia weren’t involved, so as they all sit around talking about what it takes to be a man, the inevitable answer of anatomy turns into a Broadway number complete with chasse ball change and jazz hands. The fourth wall is non-existent and some audience members get an up close and personal experience with the performers. The song is so catchy you’ll be singing it for days. And possibly blush while doing so.
Another side-splitting segment turns a discussion on gender differences in the bathroom into a Motown-style ditty, but then the mood abruptly turns somber with statistics about rape and suicide among males. The point is obviously to illuminate inconsistencies and problem areas in what our society considers to be weak, but the scene is so short and sobering it begs to be its own show.
Shirts are shed for the final solo story and closing song, which brings up the question of “Am I a man?” But that’s not the only issue brought up. The show closes with so many gaping holes, it makes one want more.
For instance, even though the cast is all men, a nameless female donning a dress and heels wanders in and out, performing various menial tasks. Her character is never fully explained nor is does she interact long enough to provide more than vague hints at her purpose. Then there’s the opening question about fear and its expression, which isn’t developed much at all. Even the topics that were brought up could have used more attention.
But that’s part of what makes it exciting, to see where this will go next. Performing in a festival naturally limits the length of a production, and Georgiou has a wealth of material at her fingertips to explore.
Underneath it all, though, is not the questions of what it takes to be a man or issues with being one, but rather the source of perception. Where does one get his/her ideas of gender identity and roles? Is it from family, religious values, cultural expectations, societal norms, or something different? The answer to this question for each audience member will likely affect how he/she reacts to the different stories.
Overall, the performance is superb, loose ends and all. Humor appears not only in the songs but is infused throughout. Probably the biggest impression most patrons will have is how funny it is. Locklear proves to be the strongest and most versatile performer, with his engaging smile and range of vocal performances, but the other men hold their own on stage and each contribute something unique to the production.
» The Show About Men is performed in the following blocks:
- 2 p.m. Saturday, July 18
- 8 p.m. Friday, July 24
- 8 p.m. Thursday, July 30
» Read our interview with Georgiou about The Show About Men
» Danielle Georgiou writes about her creative process for The Show About Men in her June Sixth Position Column on TheaterJones
» Click here to go to our special section devoted to the Festival of Independent Theatres. You'll find a schedule, interviews, reviews and more.