The Power of Penis: Exposing Men & The Myth of Their Manhood! [Spoiler Alert]
Last month was quite a month in the world of theatre. I have since seen two phenomenal plays that tackle the inner struggle of manhood, the myths of the male bravado, and the fight to stay alive in a world of fatal police brutality among those of us with too much melanin in our skin.
Author, activist, educator, and poet, Peter J. Harris, has been working to uplift, educate and enlighten our communities about micro aggressive ethnicism and the empowerment for people of color since the late 70’s. The Johnson Chronicles: Truth & Tall Tales about My Penis, starred television and theatre veteran, Terrell Tilford (One Life To Live, Soul Food: The Series), who gave a provocative performance that penetrated both the sexual salutation of human nature while performing an autopsy of the promiscuous violence endured by black males hunted by the boys and girls in blue.
The performance started a little shaky as I sat in my second row seat of the Matrix Theatre. I could see that Terrell was still revving up his motors for the first few scenes as the poetic script he was delivering felt forced. Albeit, by the half hour he was hot and rolling. This amazingly attractive man doesn’t have much to work at when it comes to causing people to fall in love with the sight of him, however, he was going to have to work for us (the audience) to yearn for him (and his penis) as he guided us through a labyrinth of pain, desire, truth, and vulnerability.
I could tell that the words Harris had crafted might be a bit above the minds of many. Having such a strong background in academia, sometimes, though poignant and beautifully written, his words can often leave one feeling overwhelmed with trying to understand the meaning of a phrase. However, this wasn’t the complete case with The Johnson Chronicles. Whether writers editing, director’s guidance or actor’s talent, every scene seemed to flow seamlessly into one another. I sat and took in the moments of talking about realities that all men of color have faced or will face in their lifetime: Your first wet dream, the anxiety of your first sexual experience, but there were some doleful moments as well. The very real conversation of the hunting of black lives. The discord and confusion drawn to make black men out to be some dangerous animal rather than just a being who is searching for something long ripped away. Then, like those conversations weren’t heavy enough, Harris gave Tilford the incredible task of living out the raw and in depth emotions of a father who’s daughter was molested for years of her life by her step father.
Knowing Harris and his daughter personally, I have to say, this moment was one that brought me to a screeching emotional halt. To hear the pain and the struggle in the words left me both speechless and anxious. What do you do when your baby girl tells you not to do anything and every fatherly instinct is screaming at you to harm this abuser? How does one look at their child in the face and promise to do nothing? Tilford played Harris’ words masterfully. The internal struggle of Father vs Protector came through in a way that was quite surprising. Not because Tillford wasn’t a father himself - to one of the most precious and beautiful little girls you could know - but because the emotions one feels to imagine such a horror is quite different than having lived it. Where Tillford pulled those emotions from is beyond me. Albeit, it worked beautifully.
With many moments discussing black male ‘slang-age’, Tillford and Harris blessed us with the opportunity to speak to them after the show in a Q&A portion of the program. The talk back was truly inspiring. We got to finally hear the voice of the man behind the words. We were able to get into the mind of the man who brought such powerful thoughts and conversations to the stage. As much of him as I know personally, I have to say that Peter J. Harris is an unassuming whirlwind of educational, philosophical, and authentic precision. He heals and inspires; pricking the very heart of humanity with his love and passion for preventing intimate violence, promoting encouragement among people of color, and living a life that is whole and healthy. He’s a D.C. boy to the bone with a culture all his own. Listening to him speak about the choices made in his direction of this play, made me see a man who’s work is much more about community and much less about being some pivotal voice for the people. It’s as if Harris has no interest in being a spokesperson but doesn’t shy away from speaking his authentic truth; when and where it is called for. Even his curse words sound like pure philosophical poetry. Sewn together by the threads of pure Godly intent and direction. It was also very clear that as great a performance that Tilford gave, no one can capture the essence of Peter J. Harris like Peter J. Harris.
Writing: 5 stars
Performance: 4 stars
Set design: 4 stars
Wardrobe: 3 stars
Multimedia: 5 stars
Overal Execution: 5 stars
Keeping the conversation about the Black male penis going, I was able to see yet another play written and directed by another friend of mine, Karen Roberson. Karen is an alumni of the California State University, Dominguez Hills’ theater program and has been seen in several stage plays, web series, and has most recently became the CEO and founder of Mahogany Girl Productions as well as the Miss Greater West Coast Pageant.
Needless to say that I was most intrigued when I found out that Karen was writing and directing The Penis Monologues. As a writer myself, I’m well aware of what it means to be a story teller. To be able to burrow your way into the minds of different people and characters - in an effort to bring an authentic and relatable story to the surface - is the very nature of the creative writing beast. However, to have one gender write an entire piece on the opposite gender concerning genitalia they don’t have is quite a feat.
Having been a guest of friend and fellow writer and director, Spencer Collins (Can God’s Love Reach You In The Dark), I took my seat in the UC Dominguez Hill’s theatre department and prepared myself for what everyone was saying was one of the most outrageous shows of the year.
Lights down, curtain up. Unveiled to me were nine black men of every shade and size siting in staggered formation across the stage. Every man dressed in white and the audience began to go crazy. I will admit, there’s nothing quite sexier than a black man in all white waiting for the cheers to die down so they can deliver a piece on their manhood!
Tobyus Green kicked things off. With his midwest/country twang, Tobyus took us on a journey that depicted gang life realness. His monologue spoke to the reality that, while most of us don’t agree with gang activity, gang life for most men (and women) is about family. It’s about the brotherhood that a Black man feels when connected to other brothers who will ride or die (quite literally) for one another because of the street bond that ties them together; the fraternizing among those whom many have cast aside. It was a story of brotherhood and connection. It was the story of the Angry Penis.
Tobyus is the type of actor that falls in, head first. He gives all he has and all he can muster into what he’s doing and saying; forcing us to instantaneously follow him on whatever journey he is meant to lead us on. As the Angry Penis, Tobyus did not disappoint. He gave such an authentic performance that passed through emotional realms of comedy, drama, and tragedy. Tobyus’ character speaks about a friend, Scrappy, who is supposed to be extremely close to Tobyus’ character and proceeds to get shot and killed by the end of the monologue. However, I felt the emotional transition of gangster fun and games to raging outcry, over a character we never see and are never given substantial foundation to connect with, was out of place. This, of course, says nothing about Tobyus’ ability to delve into the depths of emotion that would warrant such a moment, but more so of a story that could have used a little more editing and rethought. After all, he had no control over the words and moments he was given, simply how well they were portrayed to the audience, and for that, I give Tobyus a roaring two thumbs up. If ever you need a man to push his emotional compass to the limits, Tobyus Green is the actor you want to hire.
Next up was the Broken Penis aka Lamont Young. First and foremost, I could not get past the ‘wrinklage’ of his T-Shirt and what looked like cream (not white) linen pants. No shade directed to the cast or crew, but iron’s aren’t that expensive and should be a staple for all shows and all actors. Furthermore, as costuming is concerned, it’s always important to remember continuity. If the entire cast is supposed to be in a particular color, wardrobe should make sure that it’s all the same shade of that color. Any variant can usually be a distraction to the overall visual piece and any wrinkles are easily noticeable. As was the case with most of the cast.
As Young rendered his portrayal of the Broken Penis, I fell down a rabbit hole that I really wasn’t trying to fall into. His story was one that many men - whether spoken or unspoken - have held in the core of their beings for years upon years. The story of familial molestation by the ones we trust and admire. The internal struggle of who to trust our secret with and if there will ever be a person we feel we can find comfort in, due to such traumatizing abuse.
The overall performance was hard to watch, not because I too am a sex abuse survivor, not because the content was so jarring and horrible to hear, but because Young was almost inaudible. Most of his speech was lost due to lack of diction. However, beyond the inability to fully understand Young’s phrases, the part that had me most up in arms was the choice to go from hard, guarded and stubborn to completely hysterical.
Having spoken to many men who have been abused, of all walks of life, one of the real moments in the telling of their story is the fight they have to never be the victim. The fight to stay as strong as possible, even at the expense of holding back an ocean’s worth of tears. I didn’t understand how the Broken Penis could start out so in tact with who he was, simply to unravel in minutes to a crying, snotting, infant in front of a character (the audience) that he doesn’t know. It seemed forced and unnatural. That’s not to say, however, that the subject matter didn’t reach people, because it did. There was a young woman who burst out into tears in the audience because she had never dealt with her own abuse. Albeit, I’d bargain to say that the outburst had much more to do with the subject of sexual abuse than it did Young’s acting.
If I were the director, I would have loved to see the Broken Penis played a little more sullen and subtle when the mood of the monologue changes to divulge the characters abuse. I would have liked to see how Young’s ability would have carried him had he not had the comfort zone of tears and wales to lean on. I don’t doubt that Young has incredible acting ability, but whether actors choice or directors guidance, this piece left me angry and disrespected. It failed to capture the realness of a moment when a strong black man becomes vulnerable enough to a stranger to say, “My uncle molested me.” I don’t know any man that would become that emotional with someone they didn’t know. Understanding that with a show like this, the audience is essentially another character; very much involved in what is happening on the stage.
Kameron Jack III; the Empty Penis. The story of a young man growing up without his father. It, unfortunately, seems to be the Black man’s bible of experiences. There’s only one word that I can use in describing Jack’s performance: Solid. There was no real peak in the acting, but there was no fall in it either. It was very even kill throughout. He played the piece as though he were having conversation with the audience. Considering the subject, it worked. It worked really well. He gave us what we needed, didn’t overdue it, and didn’t shy away from the small moments of elevation, when his anger as a son overtook him. However, I will say that amid a stage full of penis, white pants were not Jack’s friend, because it was clear to see that his penis was anything but empty! I’m sure he’s making someone at home a VERY happy individual.
Marwan Granville, sounds like a name straight out of the Harry Potter series. Nonetheless, it’s a name that people should watch out for. Marwan was hysterical! His timing was on point and his delivery of a man with a little (or a lot) less penis than most desire was absolutely a joy to watch. Portraying the Disappointed Penis, Granville had the audience roaring with laughter. With his white jeans, black boots, and white sports jacket (sans the shirt to show his washboard abs and perky man breasts) Granville was the epitome of physical comedy. He used everything to his disposal to tell the story of many men who think that they are packing way more than they actually are. The only downfall about Granville’s performance was his diction. Amid the roaring laughs and the physicality of the moments he chose, it was often hard to understand what he was saying. And try as though he might have to speak above the laughter, it would have been an even more incredible performance, had he been mic’d. All in all, Marwan was proof that every story doesn’t have to pull at the emotional heartstrings leaning to the side of drama and an abundance of tears. Audiences love when their comedic heartstrings are pulled as well. Bravo Marwan, Bravo!
When India Arie sings her song The Truth, I imagine that a man such as Samuel Simmons was on her mind. Bringing to life the Devoted Penis, Simmons delved into the conversation of what it means to be a celibate man. A man with spiritual and religious foundations that aren’t always as cut and dry as the rest of the world might interpret. The audience was in roaring commentary as they cheered this man who wanted to stay chaste and pure before the Lord, while searching this earth for the right woman to give his manhood to. I could definitely tell that Simmons had the chops, he had presence. He could smear his hand with last years shit and still have audiences eating out of his palm. However, as great as his ability to command the stage was, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he sounded so angry throughout the piece.
I’m not so naive as to think that an inflection in tone or a rise of volume automatically equals “Angry Black Man”. Most times it’s just “Passionate Black man with a strong voice”.
Alas, I felt like the delivery of the Devoted Penis didn’t leave me feeling the warm and fuzzies that I thought I’d feel. It lacked, in certain areas, the smoothness and matter-of-fact tone that one needs when speaking about their life choice to be celibate rather than sounding like it’s a complete moment of scolding. Or worse yet, condemnation for those who don't choose the same. Albeit, the performance was powerful and gave light to a life choice that most people aren’t conversing enough about.
What can I say about Lucky Conner aka the Loving Penis… I honestly can’t say much and that’s no shade to Lucky, but the performance wasn’t one that stuck with me. The story was basically a man declaring love for what we think is a woman only to have the monologue end with him proposing to a man. **PEARL CLUTCH** I think the lack for me was that there was no theatre presence. Conner - though very attractive and very well put together that night - didn’t strike me as a stage actor. I felt like had I seen him on screen I would've gotten more emotion, more personality due to the ability to be subtle and the camera magnifying that for the viewer. However, with stage, there’s a certain presence you have to have to fill the space you’re in. Word is, this was Conner’s first stage performance, so for that I give him kudos and say, book more stage work! It will increase his talent immensely. Looking forward to seeing more of Mr. Lucky!
The double dick feature of the play were the I Do and I Don’t penis’ played by the theatre veteran Idrees Degas (I Do Penis) and the orgasm igniting Reggie Myles (I Don’t Penis). The pair hit the stage to share two very different stories from two very different worlds. Reggie portrayed everything we love and hate about that thug life, love, and tribulation. The up’s, the down’s and the very exciting and titillating make-up sex! Idrees, on the other hand, shared a story of soft, sensual, love in longevity. He spoke on marriage and how beautiful it can be. Now, two very wonderful stories, however, not so sure they should have shared the same stage time. Idrees’ gave a performance that took me back to the golden age of Hollywood glamour. Very grandiose, broad stroked phrases, melodramatic pauses, but all and still very sincere and in the pocket of the emotion his character was meant to feel. Yet and still, the juxtaposition against Reggie’s hardcore thug appeal (in his CRISP white ensemble I might add! Way to make white look good boy!) and rough rider sexual prowess, seemed to lose steam for Idrees’ moments. Not to mention that I couldn’t get over the fact that he kept trampling all over this flower that was on the floor for no reason - seemingly.
It was meant - I assume - to represent his wife, but if that were the case, why not hold it throughout the piece? Why not caress this flower and treat this plucked rose with the integrity and adoration that the character’s story speaks to, while drawing a parallel between this flower and his wife? Instead, that rose got kicked and stepped on like a hardened 3-month-old piece of gum; stuck to the concrete of any South Central side walk.
Overall the choice to parallel the I Do Penis and the I Don’t Penis backfired immensely. Degas’ piece was meant to inspire and take an internal look at what could very well be eternal love. Analyzing the emotions of great joy with great loss when we find that his wife dies of cancer. However, when faced with the outrageously funny and sexually driven character that Myles was giving on the other side of the stage, Degas' entire balloon lost all helium. Myles had the entire audience in an uproar by the end of his monologue. The physicality of his sexual appetite portrayed in such a way that every vagina was wetter than boiled okra and every penis was ready to get home and dive into the most familiar wet hole it could find!
Myles’ scenes were so intense, I even found myself jolted out of my seat like some old church mother after the pastor had brought her on to glory with his preaching. These types of responses from the audience killed any chance of Degas’ ability to recapture the stage. When Reggie ended his piece and it was Idrees’ turn to draw the curtain on his monologue, all the audience wanted to know was:
“Now what the hell is YOU gon’ do?!”
Unfortunately, the sullen moment that concluded Degas’ piece wasn’t enough to navigate the audience on the journey Degas’ character needed us to go on. In fact, it traumatized the moment the audience was in, as we had to so quickly adjust our emotion from sexually excited and laughing to feeling bad that this man had lost his wife. As an audience member, it was simply too large a shift in such a random and abrupt way. Furthermore, as Degas ended his performance, the audience was so utterly confused by his Street Car Named Desire “Stella” moment that we simply just clutched our pearls, clasped our mouths and tried not to laugh from the un-comfortability. Moving on!
Dejuan Christopher (period). What can I say about this broad shouldered piece of caramel goodness? The only bad thing I can say is that I couldn’t stand the fact that his fit was crisp and the sucka had on a brown belt that just cut across this white ensemble with no grace or mercy. It was a fashion eye sore. I later found out that he had a white suit jacket to complete the look. I wish he would have been able to keep it on because THAT worked!
Christopher brought us the Penis That Matters. His monologue was a kaleidoscope of realities currently plaguing our country. Black lives being murdered, hunted, assassinated for simply being. His tone was strong and boisterous. Angry yet compassionate. Christopher’s stance never wavered as he gave such a remarkable performance. It was as though all the black leaders of our time had laid their hand on him and whispered in his hear, “Speak our people’s truth!” I was captivated by his strength. I was impressed with his command of an entire stage without moving from the spot he stood in. Encouraged by the words given to him to speak, I was enthralled by the call to action that both the piece and his performance gave. Dejaun Christopher was, in one word, incredible!
As the plethora of penis was coming to a close, there was a surprise ding-a-ling to devour! You can’t talk about the Black man’s penis without talking about the erotica for which it is yearned. Cue the tenth penis, Mike Strong, as the Erotic Penis! Now, I must say the outfit threw me! Strong walked out in this tightly fitted (I later found out it was self made as well), white ensemble with gold embroidery, fringe, and stitching! FRINGE!!! Like, a lot of freaking fringe! Even for a stripper it was a lot. However, I didn’t count Strong out of the race for an outrageous wardrobe decision and I’m glad I didn’t! Strong’s piece was written by a phenomenal actor and handsome piece of Black man himself, Vincent Ward (The Walking Dead, Eargasms). It’s a piece that is meant to entice, control, seduce, and transport the listener into a world of utter euphoria. Vincent’s deep voice and strong rugged demeanor makes for a masterful depiction when you see him perform it. Albeit, Mike Strong took Ward’s construction to another level. Amid his provocative dictation of Ward’s words, Strong brought up a woman from the audience to experience a full on erotic exposé. In addition to getting rid of the fringe jacket and working this woman from head to toe in a chair, I gave Strong a very well deserved applause for a most exciting and riveting performance.
The Penis Monologues was a great piece of work. There were moments overall that needed some refining, redirection, and editing, but as a compilation of work from the pen to the stage, I was thoroughly entertained.
Writing: 4 stars
Performance: 4 stars
Set design: 5 stars
Wardrobe: 2 stars
Multimedia: 4 stars
Overal Execution: 4 stars
I find it refreshing that the conversation about the male genitalia and all it is connected to is finally being had. Women have, for so long, had the platform to celebrate their bodies and reclaim for themselves what other’s had chosen were someone else’s. Although men may have not had the same type of struggle, there have been (and still are) some very real stigmas surrounding the penis and what it represents for the sake of manhood, especially in the Black and Brown communities. These two phenomenal plays will have men everywhere declaring, despite all that has been placed upon it, “I am NOT the sum of my penis!”