Uncut – The Penis Monologues, directed by Garth Anderson, offered an offbeat response to the controversial Vagina Monologues. The adults-only show took a raunchy, entertaining and challenging look at male sexuality – and what being a man means in the 21st century.
The contentious script includes invited contributions from a number of high-profile local writers, and sheds light on seldom-discussed issues such as circumcision, chauvinism, homophobia, impotence, penis enlargement and sex changes, among others. The varied collection of monologues is frank, sexy and often outrageous.
When did you make the decision that you would be nude in the show, and what made up your mind? You could have possibly renamed it and got away with a clothed version…
It was the director, Garth Anderson’s, decision. Once I’d got over the shock and horror, he explained that since I was taking a stand against circumcision, audiences would be wondering if I was circumcised or not, and that simply telling them wouldn’t be enough. The show was about men’s issues, particularly the penis, so what better way to ”nail my colours to the mast” than to grin and bare it. Yes, we could have done a clothed version, but the monologues were outrageous, bawdy, even scandalous, so a ”clothed version” would have pulled the production back into the realm of the mundane. The decision to go naked stirred people’s curiosity, and word-of-mouth was invaluable publicity for an almost unheard-of performer. The Cape Town season, for example, was sold out, with people queuing outside the theatre each night in the hopes of securing tickets. Durban, typically, was slow to respond.
What was the most difficult thing about it or was it a breeze for you?
It was the most difficult thing I have ever done. The show toured for two years, and each night when I went out there I died a thousand deaths, hoping that the audience would look anywhere but down. The toughest part of the tour was playing Grahamstown in freezing July.
Did you rehearse in the buff, and any onstage… accidents?
Mercifully, my director required me to strip down for the final dress, or should I say undress rehearsal only. One notable onstage incident was during a run when I had a very bad cold. There was nowhere to hide any tissues, so I had to keep dashing offstage to wipe my nose. Another very funny incident was during a performance that was attended by Des and Dawn Lindberg, who sat in the second row. Dawn Lindberg staged The Vagina Monologues in South Africa, and Uncut – The Penis Monologues was essentially a tongue-in-cheek retort. There were several unkind references to Mrs Lindberg in my show, for example, that the South African Vagina Monologues should have been called The Crack of Dawn. It was extremely difficult to keep a straight face onstage while sending her up, and to this day I remember her grim expression and her knuckles whitening as she dug her fingers into her husband’s leg.
Is it harder to stay in character when you are naked?
It’s very difficult staying in character while you cannot make eye contact with an audience, because their gaze is fixed further south. I’m also shy about my body, so there was all that stuff to deal with at the same time.
Did you have any unusual reactions to the play from the audience?
Apart from the usual gasps, shrieks of laughter, mutterings, and a few walk-outs… we also had a religious group picketing outside a theatre. And several death threats.
The show toured for two years, as you say. What was the response like in different places? Did it vary at all?
Overall the response was good, but with mixed reviews. My season in Bloemfontein was cancelled, because the local newspaper’s editor refused to carry any ads or publicity that included the word “penis”. So it was almost impossible to sell the production.
I was surprised how many women took to the show, coming to me afterwards to thank me for letting them in on some of the things they didn’t understand about men.
The Cape Town audiences enjoyed it the most, but the place that really surprised me was White River. I was expecting to be tarred and feathered and run out of town, but they loved it, and were the only people in the country who picked up every nuance in the script. This was also the first time I was asked to autograph someone’s breast!
Did you watch other actors in nude roles, or do any unusual research/preparation?
I did no research for this aspect of the show (Scandinavian porn aside.) And I had never seen anyone go naked (on stage.) I tried to buff up by employing a private gym instructor for six months prior to the show, but I stayed just as skinny.
Would you ever go nude for a role again?
A most definite, emphatic and vehement NO.
Any helpful tips for anyone thinking of taking on a nude role?
Think carefully before agreeing to go naked on stage. Is it essential? Can it be avoided? You will be haunted by that decision for years. I still bump into people, sometimes in the most awkward places, who gleefully, and often loudly, remind me of what parts of me they have seen.
What, in hindsight, have you learnt from the experience?
I have learned that strippers are very brave people, that nudity sells tickets, and that shows involving nudity should not be staged in winter!
Anything else you’d like to add?
It was an experience of a lifetime! But I think I’ve found my niche now, as a writer, working behind the scenes.