THE PORNOGRAPHIC MAN
What would you do if you had two hours to live and you knew there was no heaven or hell? Do you think we’re all just animals and it’s only a system of laws that keeps us from falling into a wretched state of nature? If there were no laws, do you think we’d all be rapists and killers?
And even if I did, I still wouldn’t have gotten much out of the Organic Greenhouse’s production of Jim Marcus’s The Pornographic Man, which raises these and other questions about human–well, male nature. But it’s all done in a most dull and pretentious way. We could go on and on debating the philosophical underpinnings of this misguided work, discussing whether the play exposes or exemplifies misogyny, arguing over whether it objectifies women or decries their objectification, but I think we’d be wasting our time. The questionable philosophy in Marcus’s play is not the root of its problem; the problem is it’s bad theater.
Set in a not-too-distant future in a society not all that different from our own, The Pornographic Man presents a rapidly decaying world where men are falling victim to a disease called M.A.S.C. (Masculine Aggressive Sexual Conditioning), which causes them to rape and murder women. John (James M. Lynch) and Zeke (Rick LaFond), two men afflicted with M.A.S.C., have been quarantined in a plush cell. They’re allowed no contact with the outside world, but they can call up computer-generated women from time to time on a video monitor.
The differences between the two characters are clearly delineated. Consider the different ways they make their beds: Zeke, a wacky jokester, has wildly colored sheets and stuffed animals on his bed, while John, the menacing brooder, sleeps on stark white sheets. Zeke gets off on fantasizing about any of the women who pop up on the cell’s video monitor, while John is obsessed by the digitized image of a woman with whom he talks as often as he can, particularly when Zeke is asleep.
The plot turns when John is able–through some kind of flashback or computer-generated fantasy or sketchy author’s device–to escape his prison and meet a burlesque dancer very like the computer-generated woman he’s been fantasizing about. Since he’s suffering from M.A.S.C., naturally he has no alternative but to bring the woman home, rape and murder her, fret over what to do with her body, and help the handy Zeke dismember her. Finally, after a flashback suggests that John’s violence relates to his father’s abuse of his mother, the epidemic of M.A.S.C. spreads at lightning speed, until John is one of the only “sentient beings” left on the planet.
Throughout there’s a good deal of heavy-handed philosophizing, some symbolic chess playing, and the standard profanity-laced dialogue. A sample:
“Fuck you more.”
“Fuck me more?”
“Yeah, fuck you more.”
Much of the rest of the dialogue is either similarly crass or completely convoluted; whatever Marcus is trying to say gets lost in a surfeit of babble. There’s a fair amount of blood and we see a couple of simulated rapes, but they’re done in such an offhand sort of way that the audience remains indifferent instead of being shocked. The idea, I suppose, is that when men view women only as dehumanized images on television or in the pages of a magazine it’s easier for them to commit violence against them.
There might be something instructive in some of this if it were said well. Alas, it is not. Some of these ideas come up in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, to name a couple of possible influences; but Marcus’s play is much more amateurish. Perhaps he can defend the two-dimensionality of the female characters’ lines by saying that they’re computer generated, but are we to believe that John and Zeke’s boring, hackneyed dialogue came out of a computer too? The fuzzy plotting can’t be defended on these grounds; surely a computer play-writing program would have drawn the lines between reality, fantasy, and flashback more clearly. A computer-generated audience might find this play valuable, but most genuine members of the human race will find The Pornographic Man gross and offensive or dull and inane.
Meghan Strell directs with an easy touch, but she cannot coax any particularly memorable performances out of her cast. And though a few of the cast members seem to have real talent, The Pornographic Man doesn’t let us find out for sure.