REVIEW: A Woman-less Future in “Mankind”
The big idea behind writer and director Robert O’Hara’s new play “Mankind” at Playwright’s Horizons is as intriguing and brilliant as any I’ve heard in a long time. It’s the future, and Republicans got what they wanted: abortion is illegal; reproduction, in turn, regulated; and women denied equal rights. As a result of centuries of mistreatment, the female of the species goes extinct. The patriarchy wins. Now what?
The play develops this idea in a humorous and skit-like fashion in its opening scenes as Jason (Bobby Moreno) informs his fuckbuddy Mark (Anson Mount) that he’s pregnant (yes, men adapted and can now procreate; yes, they were both on “the pill”). Jason then attempts to secure an abortion in this fascist police state, resulting in their joint arrest for attempted murder, and his having to bring the pregnancy to term. [Spoiler Alert] It’s a girl! After this stunning revelation, the play performs a bait and switch, and the focus of the satire becomes ... organized religion. Jason, Mark, and their baby become the focus of a new religious cult of feminism. Who saw that coming? Not I.
The rest—roughly three-fourths of a two act play—is an extended allegory poking fun at the absurdity of religious ritual and the arbitrariness and falseness of man-made catechism and its inevitable corruption—“love one another” quickly devolving into “kill all non-believers”. As a Catholic, I found it quite funny. As a critic, I was puzzled. Mr. O’Hara is an irreverent and provocative writer whose past work has smartly skewered gender, race, and sexuality with a keen humanity and breathtaking comedy (“Bootycandy” being a favorite of mine).
Satire is at its best when sharp. Here, his efforts are too diffuse, doomed, perhaps, by the sheer scale of his imagined future and its cornucopia of targets for exploration. In the end, the exciting and deeply relevant gender aspects of the premise regrettably fall to the wayside, underdeveloped in lieu of a sprawling pageant of religious idiocy. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the play, but I also didn’t find it terribly challenging or thought-provoking.
In repentance for an “abortion is murder” monologue by the prosecutor, played by André De Shields, a speech is given at curtain call proclaiming support for reproductive freedom, and collections for Planned Parenthood are made in the lobby. Both felt unnecessarily defensive and apologetic for an audience composed mostly of, as Woody Allen would say, “left wing Jewish homosexual pornographers”. But, point taken. “Mankind” operates at its best as a cautionary tale about the perils of regulated reproduction and consequences of institutionalized gender inequality. As women are poised to assert their power like never before in 2018, hopefully mankind (and mankind) learns the lesson.
Bottom Line: “Mankind” is a new satire from playwright Robert O’Hara (“Bootycandy”) that tackles gender, reproduction, fascism, and organized religion, but its intriguing and brilliant premise—a future in which women are extinct and men procreate—becomes too diffuse with too many targets.
Running Time: 2 hours (including one intermission)
Opening Night: January 8, 2018
Final Performance: January 28, 2018