The Penis Monologues

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As reviewed by ROBERT TRUSSELL

Sometimes you see things at the KC Fringe Festival that you won’t see anywhere else.

Saturday night, moments before the beginning of “The Penis Monologues” at the Unicorn Theatre, I happened to look to my left and saw Heidi Van, who directed the show, and artist Peregrine Honig, who conceived it with Van, gussied up in their nice opening-night dresses and heels, climbing a ladder to the sound-and-light booth. Incongruous? Yes. Impressive? You bet. It’s a good example of what makes the Fringe Fest what it is: Everything is hands-on.

Their show, which I admit I approached skeptically, turned out to be a winner: Witty, thoughtful, provocative, sexy, poignant and funny — and sharply executed by a talented cast. This isn’t the first play to use the title “The Penis Monologues,” which immediately suggests a response to Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” but what Van and Honig have created is unique. Some of the material they solicited from area writers, but they also borrowed from other sources.

Katie Hall, for example, performs Edmund’s “bastard speech” from “King Lear,” and soprano Victoria Sofia Botero opens the performance with a stunning version of Giacomelli’s castrato aria “Sposa non mi conosci.”
But the original material makes the most lasting impression. Diane Yvette delivers remarkable precise performances, first with “One of Our Biggest Social Problems” by Gibran X. Rivera and later with Charles Ferruzza’s “Size Queen.” Ferruzza’s piece was arguably the best written of the show, and certainly the funniest.

Vanessa Severo immerses herself in “I Am a Penis” by Jose Faus, which offers the first-person testimony of the organ in question, projected through a Latino lens and colored by Catholic guilt. The writing is eloquent and Botero offers occasional translations and commentary in Spanish to Severo’s soliloquy.
Cat Mahari, a lithe and expressive dancer, performs a solo piece to a suite credited to Honig. Marianne McKenzie performs two interesting selections — “Transcript” by Heidi Van and “My Penis Fell in Love” by Jeff Smith. And Hall returns with an affecting monologue to close the show, a poetic apology by Brian Huther for following the biological dictates of his gender.

There’s nothing sensational about the presentation. The actresses are costumed in plain jumpsuits, but Honig’s scenic design is remarkable. It’s a modular set of what appears to be large sandstone boulders that can be rearranged between scenes and at one point takes the form of a reclining man — suggesting, intentionally or not, the plaster molds of the victims of the Vesuvius eruption in Pompeii.

Of the Fringe shows I caught on the opening weekend, this was easily the most technically polished. It also happened to be the most thought-provoking.