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NZ Fringe Festival 2013
conceived, compiled and performed by Tommy Truss

at S and Mís cocktail and lounge bar, 176 Cuba St, Wellington
From 16 Feb 2013 to 9 Mar 2013
[1 hr 30 mins; Saturdays only]

Reviewed by John Smythe, 17 Feb 2013

Yesterday was a busy one for Tommy Truss from the USA, now resident in Wellington. At 2pm he got his Windy Performing Arts Ensemble (WindyPAE) on the road – the city pavements, that is – with Wheels of Justice. At 8pm he was in the downstairs space of S and M's Cocktail and Lounge bar premiering his Penis Monologues.

Well, not his ‘cock tales' exactly. Standing, sitting on either of a couple of stools, or interfacing with an electric keyboard, he recounts a selection of the penis-related missives he received after he'd “sent out a call to blokes asking them to write original works based on their experiences, stories and relationship with their penis.”  

‘Paul' segues from Raquel Welch to his well-endowed boyfriends' ‘Moby Dicks'. ‘Ben' sings the multitudinous names for penises. ‘Gary' discovers, through biblical investigation, that he has been circumcised while ‘Rick' (or was it his brother?) recalls the first time he saw an uncircumcised penis.

‘Tony' recounts a collision between his crotch and his bike's handlebars. ‘Marvin' tells the family joke about what he said, aged three, when taking a bath with his sister. ‘Matty' remembers being taught how to pee by his Dad.

Recurring throughout are ‘Barney's fascinating facts about the reproductive organs of various creatures and ‘Willy' also offers a statistical analysis of the properties of the human penis and all the flows from it.

‘Kyle' reveals how he dealt with the fact of his smallness at college. ‘Mike' shares how being out of work has affected his balls. ‘Jerry' offers a poem …

‘Tyler' from Texas and now in New York links The Little Prince with a vivid account of his penile piercing and a subsequent experience with an also-pierced girlfriend. ‘Adam' riffs on his changing relationship with his cock since he got AIDS. Bi-sexual ‘Dean' apologises to his for not loving it enough.

A slew of penis-related jokes makes for a change of pace in preparation for ‘Bobby's bizarre and increasingly harrowing account of father/son/brother hand-job incest and its consequences. ‘Keith' mistakenly attributes “The pen is mightier than the sword” to Shakespeare (it was Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1839 play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy) before opining about man-made phallic structures as instruments of intrusion. 

Another ‘Bobby', from remote West Virginia, admits to the scarring results of his adolescent relationship with the sensuous warmth of gopher dirt and then gopher holes. In discovering what pleasures her boyfriend, ‘Julie' discovers the pleasures of wearing and using a ‘strap on'. And ‘James' completes the litany with a poignant account of how his otherwise impaired wife pleasures him most.

Billed in the programme as a one hour show it in fact takes 90 minutes and could do with some trimming. Either that or Truss could bring a couple more performers in – on rotation, perhaps, as in Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues – to vary the tone and presentation and even allow for a bit of interaction.

As it was on opening night (it only plays Saturdays by the way), despite there being a small audience in a small venue – a long narrow space alongside a row of booth seating – there was no direct contact with the audience. In noting this makes it significantly different from The Vagina Monolgues, I should add that Truss is clear in his media release: “This is not a satire of Ensler's work, nor a comment on it, I was inspired by the idea of talking about something that doesn't always get talked about.”  

Truss is clearly a good performer when he's ‘on'. When he personifies and fluently owns a contributor's story, moments of insight, understanding and even empathy occur. But when he stumbles while reading the words of others, or is not speaking from ‘within' the experience, it's matter-of-fact and somewhat distancing. More rehearsal will undoubtedly improve things at every level.

An inevitable comparison has to be made with Geraldine Brophy's 2007 gem, The Viagra Monologues, in which a cast of three delivered 15 monologues for diverse male characters, from toddlers through childhood and adolescence to adulthood; from brotherhood through parenthood to grandparenthood; from a gay man who sells his body to women to a celibate priest; a self-absorbed wanker to a lonely veteran; a taciturn Kiwi bloke to a robust European septuagenarian ...

I described that show as “a liberating experience”. I get no such result from The Penis Monologues. It's quite interesting but despite its length I don't feel much at all.  
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Steve Prenzlauer posted 18 Feb 2013, 05:18 PM / edited 18 Feb 2013, 05:23 PM

Hmmm, (scratching my head) I really think this review missed the mark to some degree.  Although, I agree that some more rehearsals and direction may be in order, the stories are raw and moving and so revealing.  I would have liked a different introduction at the beginning of the show.  In this review, I also think that there was too much comparison of other shows for me.  Also, there is some inaccurate info such as "Dean" who is transgender and his contribution moved me to tears knowing this (It was not about being bisexual).Tommy Truss was clear that this was not the Vagina Monologues and perhaps this show should have had a different name.  Yet, folks that I talked to after the show were so moved and in awe of the connection that Tommy made with the subjects (gay, straight, bi, trans, male, female). Also, folks applauded him for the risks he took in this performance.  The stories are from the heart; the subject that connects them is the penis. Definitely, on the "fringe". This is an opportunity to see exceptional and unique theatre in Wellington.

John Brennan posted 19 Feb 2013, 12:46 PM

The Penis Monologues by Tommy Truss of WindyPAE is not light theater, though I had some laughs and chortles throughout. These personal stories (not Tommy's stories, but stories he solicited) appeal to men and women: men for hearing that their relationship to their penis is not as complex as they might think, and women who want to understand more about those who have penises. These stories trancend gender, and they are stories from all genders.

Go see The Penis Monologues and decide for yourself. The underground location at S and M's Cocktail and Lounge bar on Cuba is a great spot for this Fringe show.