Life was a lot simpler for men 30,000 years ago. Each morning we'd don our bearskin tunics, pick up our clubs and venture out of our caves in a leisurely search for an animal to beat to death for that evening's dinner. If our womenfolk didn't do what we wanted, of course, we'd grunt and pull their hair until they behaved.
These days, life has become more complicated for everyone, but perhaps especially for men. In the 21st century, the past plays a tug-of-war with the future as we struggle with notions of masculinity that seem to change with as much frequency as the weather. In modern America, women are now our equals, but we still have thousands of years of grunting, hair-pulling and other Neanderthal habits to transcend. It's not an easy task.
Playwright Joe Forrest Sackett and director Paul Ford teamed up to stage the highly acclaimed Patriots last year. This year they've collaborated on Four Wheel Drive (One or Two Things About Testosterone), a new play about the trials and tribulations of manhood running for one weekend only at the KiMo Theatre.
The play explores the changing roles of men in American society from the end of World War II through the present. "One of the things we try to address in the play," Sackett says, "is that right around the turn of the millennium, say New Year's Eve 2000, there seemed to be almost unlimited possibilities for men. That has certainly changed. There's now an expectation of heroism and sacrifice. I put ’heroism' in quotes, because how is that even defined? What do men think about what they're supposed to do in this world we're living in?"
As the father of two daughters, and a husband several times over, Sackett is well aware that you can't talk about men without talking about women. He points out that notions of masculinity in our society are to a great extent determined by women, just as notions of femininity are to a large extent determined by men. Four Wheel Drive is composed of a series of linked pieces. In several of these segments, women are cast against stereotypes to explore the varying, and often fluid, roles of gender in our culture.
The play isn't conventional in either structure or content. "It isn't plot-driven or character-driven," Sackett says. "It's idea-driven."
This should be an entertaining and enlightening show. Ford and Sackett have a long history of collaborating on successful theatrical projects. "I love Joe's style," Ford says. "It moves back and forth between farcical forms, satire and character portraits. This play is challenging for me, and it's a wonderful challenge to the actors as well."
Four Wheel Drive isn't the kind of theater often presented at the KiMo. This is one reason why both men are excited about the prospect of staging it there. "I have an interest in the KiMo being successful as a theater venue," says Ford. "I want theater to thrive Downtown as much as possible."
Whether you're a man or a woman, all of us could stand to learn a thing or two about the mysteries of testosterone. Get in your Hummer, or your Cabriolet, and wheel on down to the KiMo. Please restrain yourself from grunting until after the curtain falls.