Entertainment » Theatre


by Maya Phillips
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jan 10, 2018
Anson Mount and Bobby Moreno in "Mankind."
Anson Mount and Bobby Moreno in "Mankind."  

"This has gotten out of hand," says Mark, one of the male protagonists in Robert O'Hara's "Mankind," and he's right. He says it at the start of the second act, when the play, which starts with a pregnancy and an attempted abortion, has spiraled out in the direction of multiple imprisonments, a death and the creation of a new religion (complete with a full, interactive religious ceremony). It's enough to make anyone, the audience especially, ask, "Where are we now?" and "How exactly did we get here?"

The play, written and directed by O'Hara and now showing at Playwrights Horizons, is timely in its choice of premise: In a future in which there are no women and men can get pregnant, two lovers, Mark (Anson Mount) and Jason (Bobby Moreno), try to get an abortion but must deal with the repercussions - which spin far out of their control. A "divine" birth, an army of feminists who appear as religious zealots, payoffs, media circuses: There's no end to the amount of left turns the plot makes in this his-and-his allegory about the misogyny of our modern times. But for every left turn "Mankind" makes, we're steered further and further into the realm of the bizarre and extraneous - and yet somehow ultimately keep returning to the place where we started.

The issue with "Mankind" is that it suffers from a fundamental identity crisis: Does it want to address the issue of reproductive rights? Of course. But does it also want to present an unnecessarily scathing attack on organized religion, the absurdity of groupthink and political extremism? Yes. And what about our country's obsession with money and the hazards of climate change? Yes, those are sprinkled in as well. It's simply too much for the play, which not only addresses each issue sloppily and haphazardly but also announces its themes with little subtlety and art.

Each scene is presented as a kind of chapter, with the title projected onto the stage announcing the theme. The dialogue exists more as commentary than it does as actual speech. The characters, too, are glaringly undeveloped. Mark and Jason, the only two central, recurring characters, aren't presented with any sincere characterization until halfway through, when they share the stories of when they lost their virginities - but even then the play makes another left turn and abruptly backtracks, undoing the little bit of character-building that occurs in the scene.

The actors are left with little to work with, but what they do have is irony, which they employ to full effect. Unfortunately, the result is a stage full of people who are aware of the joke and act to the joke, rather than fully inhabiting the world from which the joke is drawn. But what if the joke isn't even funny? Certainly "Mankind" doesn't aspire to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it does poke fun as it sees fit and goes too far in doing so.

As exaggerated in its aesthetic as the play is in its execution of its satire, the scenic design - intriguingly sleek, futuristic and featuring detachable, rotating stage pieces - recalls something out of a Daft Punk video. The lighting, too, creates the air of an oppressive dystopian future with a focus on darkness accented with harsh neon.

At the end of the show, the actors take a moment to advocate for Planned Parenthood and speak about the importance of the organization. Though "Mankind's" intentions are noble, the play's random shifts from one issue to another detracts from the main message it's trying to convey, which is certainly one that needs to be heard today. But in the end, between killer femininazis and giant baby idols, it all just feels like it's gotten terribly out of hand.

"Mankind" is playing at Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage Theater, 416 W. 42 St., through January 28. For more information or tickets, visit www.playwrightshorizons.org or call 212-564-1235.

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