First Pubished: http://www.australianstage.com.au/component/option,com_mycontent/Itemid,301/task,view/id,1292/

What do men talk about? More curiously: What do men talk about with each other? Are men as basic and simple as clichés suggest? Well, I know from my personal, deep and thorough appreciation of men, I find most men to be endlessly surprising and interesting and complex… and many to be great conversationalists. But, I am a woman, and I know how that may change the dynamic of the conversations I have and have caught myself wondering how men talk and engage with each other when solely in the company of other men. Does it differ? Is the subject matter different? Does the vernacular change? The pitch of the voice? The stance? The posture? Thanks to Caleb Lewis’s, Men Love and the Monkeyboy, my questions have been answered…

Philip (Bryce Youngman) is a 28 year old primatologist studying Gorillas who’s robust father Robbo (John McNeill) calls him Sphincter Boy and insists on buying him porn, taking him out fishing, drinking and picking up. Accompanying this father/son bonding session is Philip’s brother in law Dave (Andy Rodoreda): who is currently unemployed and being “taken care of” by his very capable Lawyer-wife Hayley (Julia Davis) and Rex (Laurence Bruels): a high school mate who is now a cop and quite the lady’s man. One night while celebrating his birthday, Philip is set up with a girl called Chelsea (Angela Hattersley) by Robbo: and despite an awkward start she chooses to be walked home by Philip: thus rejecting the advances of smooth-operating Rex. However, it is revealed that Chelsea may not be who she appears and soon Philip is in doubt of what is truthful connection and what is primitive posturing in order to get a “mate.”

The line between human and primate is drawn very thinly, with the actors playing both the characters of Philips human life and the primates which he studies. Quickly we see each male character in the human group playing a role in the Gorilla enclosure. Just as the gorillas have a social order: so too does the human. Without too finer point on it Robbo is the “Silverback/Alpha-male”, Dave and Rex the “Blackbacks” and Philip is the clearly the “delta male” of the group. Unfortunately the characters can also be defined as stereotype too… the old geezer, the immoral sexual predator, the hen-pecked husband and the naïve/virginal academic/SNAG, the power-suited wife and the whore with a heart of gold… all for the satirical purposes of re-thinking the modern-day human.

This satirical stereotyping ensures we are comfortable in the story and with the characters, and also ensures that the jokes work. But it is hard to know if we are to accept that the origin of the stereotype as it comes from inherent animal behaviour or if it comes from social arrangement within the culture of primates, or humans… and can we do anything about it? Do men behave badly because monkeys do: as the song suggests… “you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals…”? Lewis states in the program that “this is a play about men and women, learning to be modern women and men.” Essentially, Men, Love and the Monkeyboy is, like all plays, about communication: when, how, what to say and who we say it to. Trust. Loyalty. These are fantastic ideas which are at times well explored, though somewhat a little too well for my liking. Some of the scenes are a little too long, the sub-plot about the deceased mother seemingly superfluous and some of the pace of this production suffered from some sluggish moments of pub banter (which are thankfully propelled primarily by witty lines and quirky retorts.)

A fantastic performance from Andy Rodoreda as the disempowered “Dave,” provides a believable tenderness and a humility to the dynamic of posturing apes. Laurence Bruel’s Rex is consistent and believable as the sexual predator, and there is a huge amount of strength and conviction in Angela Hattersley’s performance. Also of note John McNeil’s performance is perfectly appropriate as Dad and Ape and a very honest scene in the second act proves tough men still cry: in front of women.

Caleb Lewis has written an interesting and clever play about the evolution of human relationships and although it may not tell me anything new about Australian men and their struggle to be “men in the modern age,” it does contain funny, engaging writing, and some challenging scenes and according to Guy Williams (the only Primatologist to have graced the Darlinghurst’s programme) a sense of “scientific veracity.” Men Love and the MonkeyBoy is sure to get you talking or perhaps even beating your chest about the modern “man.”