Review of Mankind at Playwrights Horizons

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    January 9, 2018
    Review by:

    Mankind, a new play written and directed by Robert O’Hara at Playwrights Horizons, is a satire. The play and the species, which is Mr. O’Hara’s point. You could also say it’s a farce and a tragedy on alternate days, but let’s go along for Mr. O’Hara’s ride. Actually, his disdain does not fall on the species as a whole, but on men in particular, as the leading cause of stupidity, and moral and physical culpability in the world. A view I must confess that I can’t dismiss out of hand.

    Mankind is set about two hundred years in the future – roughly one hundred years after women have become extinct and men have adapted biologically to be able to bear children. Everything is going along swimmingly for new hookups Jason (Bobby Moreno) and Mark (Anson Mount), who have known each other for about a month, until Jason finds out he’s pregnant. The opening scene is a hilarious take on the classic “tell him I’m pregnant” scenario, dude style.

    JASON: Dude, we have to talk.
    MARK:... Now?
    JASON:...There’s something I have to tell you.
    MARK:... Ok.
    JASON: Dude, I’m pregnant.
    Silence.
    MARK:... How is that-
    JASON: Dude, you know how.
    Silence.
    MARK: I thought you were on-
    JASON: I am-
    MARK: Dude, you said you were-
    JASON: Dude, I am!
    MARK: Then how is this possible?!
    JASON: Dude, I’m pregnant.

    To his credit, Mr. O’Hara does not let the scene devolve into what could be seen as a typical male vs. female stand-off. After the obligatory “what do you want to do?,” “what do you want to do” moment, a little more yelling, in which it becomes clear that they are both in this relationship for sex only, they agree that neither one of them wants this child and they bro hug it out.

    From there things definitely go south for the pair in the male-only future. Jason visits his ob-gyn (David Ryan Smith) who confirms that he’s pregnant. But when Jason, who is in a befuddled state due to his unexpected pregnancy, asks his doctor for confidential advice on where to get an abortion, he makes a crucial mistake. His doctor is a state-sponsored doctor who works for the World Power Authority. And abortion has been illegal since 50 years before wo-men (the weaker sex) went extinct.

    The plot of Mankind goes into ever-escalating spirals of exaggerated absurdity with just enough home-truths and recognizable pot-shots to make it somewhat uncomfortable for men and women alike in the present day. In the end, the world winds up with a new religion of Feminism, whose theology dictates that women went extinct when the air became toxic to women because of abortion laws. It further posits that women will not return until the air becomes rid of it’s toxicity towards women when abortion is abolished and women’s rights are preeminent. To this end, a history of Feminism gets written which is used as the Feminist Bible, which leaves out all mention of women until the Feminist Religion began.

    The production is excellent – Robert O’Hara has directed his own work crisply and clearly and has assembled an excellent cast and crew. Both Bobby Moreno and Anson Mount do an excellent job of investing their somewhat Bro Doll roles with individual personality. André de Shields does a star turn as a Prosecutor who tries the pair for murder looking like a cross between The Wizard of Oz and Queen Elizabeth I. Kudos to Dede M. Ayite, the Costume Designer (one of only two women with a credit in the Playbill and the only one with a bio), not only for Mr. De Shields’ fabulous costume, but for all of them. And the hair, wig and make-up designers J. Jared Janas & Dave Bova. The prison warden’s (Stephen Schnetzer) costume exemplified her vision brilliantly – a jet black jumpsuit with perfectly tailored and concentric white circles sewn into it through the torso and arms. Kudos also to Clint Ramos’ spare, container-like set that revolved in the middle in cubicles and then melted into the three walls of the sides and back when necessary. Working seamlessly with the dark, moody lighting by Alex Jainchill, the original music and sound by Lindsay Jones and the video projections by Jeff Sugg, the scenic design evoked an almost underground life in the future. No women, no sunshine.

    Mankind is a biting, sarcastic look at the species and where we could be heading. It will make you laugh and it will make you squirm. And very likely you will find some fault with it. But you should see it.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)


    What the popular press says...

    "Mr. O’Hara has said that with satire, especially now, you can’t go partway: “You have to go for the throat.” That’s probably true — and the viciousness of Mankind that would offend some people is perhaps its best quality. But when you go for too many throats at once, the result feels less like comedy than mayhem, and hasn’t the patriarchy already shown us enough of that?"
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "In Playwrights Horizons’ Mankind, playwright-director Robert O’Hara envisions a future society when women have vanished from the face of the earth and men must shoulder the burdens of human procreation. The offbeat premise is intriguing, but the writer fails to take it all the way, choosing a surreal treatment that is visually stunning (kudos to designers Clint Ramos and Alex Jainchill) but intellectually hollow."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - Variety