Griffin Theatre Company

The men in Stephen Gregg’s Sex Lives of Superheroes and Tom Mardirosian’s Subfertile behave like the alter egos of comic book superheroes–well-meaning but uptight, geeky, and a little too fond of Star Trek. Such repressed characters don’t always have the chance to say what they feel, so they talk to themselves a lot. Which means they talk to us a lot. Gregg and Mardirosian’s navel-gazing styles initially provide amusing insights into the foibles of would-be Clark Kents, but after a while, particularly in the case of Mardirosian, the self-involvement of the plays’ heroes begins to grate on the nerves.

Michael in Gregg’s Sex Lives of Superheroes is a comic book freak, obsessed with the adventures of ray-gun-toting supermen. Needless to say, Michael doesn’t get a whole lot of dates, so he passes his time lecturing a group of imaginary students about the sexual proclivities of Spiderman, Wonder Woman, and their ilk. In between lectures he eagerly awaits the weekly visits of his ex-girlfriend Lisa, who usually pops by on Wednesdays to snatch any belongings of his that strike her fancy.

Michael’s puppy-dog obedience to his ex is tempered by the arrival of Elenor, a blind date set up by a mutual analyst. Elenor is a strange creature as well, whose obsession takes the form of rewriting the endings of famous sappy love stories to suit her twisted imagination. She teaches Michael to stand up for himself and find the little bit of superhero hidden under his meek exterior.

Gregg’s play is certainly an entertaining opus, if a little fluffy, but it fails to sufficiently differentiate between Michael’s fantasy world and his reality. The switches from his superhero lectures to his wooing of Elenor and eventual dismissal of Lisa seem choppy and disjointed. The throwaway jokes about Superman’s potency, Batman’s lust for Robin, and Wonder Woman’s lesbianism are good for a couple of yuks, but they feel extraneous. The scenes that take place in “reality” seem to be every bit as much a product of Michael’s imagination as the fantasy sequences, preventing Superheroes from ever really springing to life. Too much of it takes place inside Michael’s brain, and Elenor and Lisa are rarely more than foils for him. Michael talks a whole lot, but his speeches pad the play rather than clarify it.

Griffin Theatre’s production does little to compensate for the incompleteness of the script. Richard Barletta has three able actors at his disposal, and while they get big laughs from their parts, they don’t always seem to be in the same play. Each member of the trio works at his or her own pace and volume. In the moments when the paces and volumes do match, we appreciate Gregg’s wit. Although it’s not enough to hold the action together, at least it makes the play fun to watch.

Tom Mardirosian’s Subfertile, the second part of Griffin’s double bill, is on the other hand a very, very complete play. So complete that you could probably lop off about half of it and find very little missing. The touching story of a man’s love/hate relationship with his inadequate supply of sperm, Subfertile tells us everything we ever wanted to know about testicles but got too sleepy to ask.

There’s a TV commercial out now for a nasal spray in which a man in need of a decongestant wakes up to find that his entire head has turned into a giant schnozz. Substitute “schwantz” for “schnozz” and you have the general idea of how Mardirosian’s protagonist Tom feels when he learns that he can’t have children. Subfertile is a 90-minute journey below Tom’s belt, parading every male fear of sexual inadequacy along the way.

Tom’s low sperm count never posed much of a problem before. Actually, when he was a red-blooded young man sowing his wild oats, it proved quite useful. But now that his wife desperately wants a baby, Tom’s juice deficiency is more of a cause for concern. He goes to see every sperm specialist imaginable. They put him through leg-crossingly painful tests, show him instructional videotapes, make him masturbate into plastic cups until, if you’ll pardon the imagery, images of semen seep into every facet of his being. There is a fantasy sequence involving dancing sperm (see also Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex . . . by Woody Allen), a scene in which Tom rejects his wife’s suggestion of artificial insemination (see also Hannah and Her Sisters by Woody Allen), a scene in which Tom frets about his inability to pass on his DNA to future generations and compares himself to the skeletons of dinosaurs in the natural history museum (see also Manhattan by Woody Allen), and a very funny, original scene in which Tom imagines himself as Mr. Spock in a famous episode of Star Trek in which the pointy-eared Vulcan seeks a mate–only in Tom’s version Mr. Spock is wearing a diaperlike testicle cooler to raise his sperm count.

Mardirosian is funny some of the time and knows how to pen a good laugh line and make men grimace. Still, an hour and a half is a hell of a long time to sit and listen to one guy kvetch about his balls. Mardirosian surrounds his protagonist with a bevy of quirky and original characters. But Tom is the least interesting one of the bunch and he’s the one we have to listen to the whole time.

Neil Wilson does a great job directing a talented ensemble, most of whom play multiple roles, but the play is tedious and repetitive. Mardirosian’s plight is not all that dissimilar from that of his hero–he spends a lot of time masturbating, but when he’s through what he has produced doesn’t even fill a small cup.