What Do Men Want?
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 15, 2007
What Do Men Want? is a double bill of short plays: Lay Down and Love Me Again, written and performed by James Howell, and The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room by Larson Rose. The latter is a light-hearted satire of gay indie theater-making, featuring a young playwright who creates a one-act play for a summer festival right before our eyes on stage. The playwright, Edmond, sits at his laptop while his boyfriend Jack alternately helps and heckles him; there's also a hunky guy named Dave who shows up in several fantasy sequences, plus a theatre critic who interrupts the play several times to offer his take (always negative) on what's going on. Edmund's main concern is that he avoid the cliches, as he sees them, of gay playwriting, but at the same time he wants the thing to sell: so the question of gratuitous nudity comes up quite a bit, along with how autobiographical the piece can be, whether it should have a diverse cast (should the downstairs neighbor—originally conceived as Dave—instead be a woman named Scarlett?), and is a little sex and profanity okay, or will that limit future performances in high schools?
Naked Dead Elephant toys with the conventions of contemporary gay theatre and with the ways that theatre in general is produced and created at the indie/festival level. It never takes itself too seriously, but it never overplays its self-referential meta-ness, which is a relief after the self-consciousness of the similarly themed but tediously executed (and much longer) [title of show]. It's an engaging trifle that doesn't overstay its welcome, and teases the audience playfully in just the right ways.
The author has directed it himself, quite effectively. Actors Keith Broughton (Edmond), Adam Pellegrine (Jack), Zach Held (Dave), and Jesse Stewart (Critic) are all fine, especially Broughton, who makes our talkative and indecisive protagonist enormously likable.
Lay Down and Love Me Again is a fascinating, perplexing solo piece about a man named Kevin who says he can't get out of his bedroom; in his pajamas, and using just a few found objects, he creates several characters in a series of connected monologues that, for me, never quite tied together coherently. We meet the preacher who Kevin imagines delivering the eulogy at his own funeral, Kevin's mother, and his therapist. What they say is intriguing and off-kilter but it always feel like wild stream-of-consciousness: it's almost like beat poetry, relishing the sounds and individual meanings of its words without seeming to care what it adds up to. Howell is a gutsy performer, though, and I'd be interested to see other work by him.