CockTales

by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 16, 2016

In a converted rail yard building resting next to the tangled strands of tracks north of Lombard Street in North Portland, Yocto Theatre brings to stage "CockTales," an unexpectedly intelligent and thoughtful examination of all things penis. Like "Vagina Monologues," to which "CockTales" owes its seed of an idea, "CockTales" explores experiences common to penis owners.

From the opening number riffing on Gregorian chant, with lyrics in Latin (transcribed for the Latin impaired) about an ill-advised decision to send a dick pic ("Why isn't it called 'Junk Mail'? Missed opportunity.") "CockTales" leverages the giggle-snort humor associated with the phallus to deliver the everyman message about the embarrassment of being a male.

Completely lacking in swagger, "CockTales" is an amalgam of stories submitted to the author and turned into vignettes and original songs, by turns painfully awkward, self-deprecating and satirical. The show is well-written, very funny and offers a glimpse behind the curtain of male bravado.

Perhaps because one of the first vignettes centered around boys learning to be ashamed of their penises (whose priest gives them the pnemonic device Touching is Terribly Sinful, or TITS), and to fear any potential pleasure awaiting to be found there, it was easy to see each of the men onstage as the little boy they once were, to understand their burden under the construct of maleness imposed on them by our highly gendered society.

Surprisingly, the stories didn't include much from the gay perspective. The only non-cis story included was of a man in a life drawing class who has an awkward response to seeing another man -- the model -- naked for the first time. It would be interesting to hear a more thorough exploration of the non-hetero male experience, particularly considering how respectfully the writers addressed the other stories.

There was also an un-selfconscious patriarchal bent to the stories, which is to be expected from a play about penises. When women are mentioned, which is infrequently, they are described as harsh, portrayed as aggressive, or objectified. There's a sense that, while the veil is lifted, men are still wary about letting their guard down around women, who could be -- and often, are -- dangerous. Even this made me compassionate about the experience of being a man; these stories expressed a significant amount of confusion, fear, and anxiety about what it means to be a man, and the difficulty many people have in navigating those waters.

Having grown up with three older brothers, I would never have guessed that what lay behind the machismo was utter panic.

The musical numbers, all original songs by Stan Janz, lift the sometimes weighty subject matter and provide a different perspective. From the brilliant Gregorian chant, to the bawdy and fast-paced rap listing common and uncommon colloquialisms about the penis, Janz and company have created some insightful and very funny songs. It was hard to catch all the lyrics because the audience was laughing so hard.

Balancing quiet, fragile observational pieces against broad humor made "CockTales" an incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking evening of theatre. There is some near-nudity, saved only by the strategic placement of a murse, but again, it is used to comic effect, as male nudity is always funny (but female nudity is always sexual-a subject that could be explored in a "Vagina Monologues/CockTales" crossover show. Hey playwrights, here's your free idea!).

This is one of the rare shows I'd like to see again. I was sorry my husband couldn't come with me, because in addition to the humor, I'd love to discuss some of the things that came up in the show. Do men REALLY have a zone defense near their midsections? Do grown men in bathrooms seek to compare penis size? Do they really refer to their body parts as "back door keys"?

With these and other questions on my mind, I heartily recommend you brave the railyard theatre setting that suggests you might have been lured to the home of a violent serial killer and see "CockTales," and enjoy the hell out of yourself. Have a drink, bring a friend and marvel at the show's ability to bring understanding for people who are burdened with the almighty phallus.

"CockTales" runs through Feb. 21 at Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St., Portland. For tickets or information, call 503-515-1384 or visit brownpapertickets.com.

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.