I’ve always believed that stand up comedians need to be performers and actors themselves. They need to know their way around the stage. But there is also a reason why stand up comedy is stand up comedy and theater is theater. A reason why they are separate and are performed separately. And I would imagine that it is because stand up comedy doesn’t require all the assets of an actor, or of the stage for that matter, and so it is performed at a separate space where one just needs to see the performer.
So when Goblin production’s "Gentlemen" played out as a stand up comedy routine, one was left crying for the criminal waste of stage and good actors. I may as well have been at a restaurant watching the show, with a chicken wing in my right hand and a beer in the left.
Gentlemen is essentially and wholly about the phallus; an attempt to explore male sexuality just like the famous "Vagina Monologues". but it’s an attempt made at a very surface level and one that is clearly meant to play to the galleries.
The script deals with four male characters with their individual stories about their adventures with their members. So there’s the man who suffers from erectile dysfunction, another who refuses to use a condom and can not see the sense in it. A boy who has just discovered masturbation and an old aging man who speaks of his troubles taking a leak in the tube and how he misses the simple act of just walking to the bathroom instead. A female character is introduced as the last act who administers quite a dressing down in a typical female rant against men and their ways.
The writing is mostly funny, albeit, nothing startlingly new or fresh – we’ve all heard these jokes before. It seemed to have been written, as I said earlier, as a stand up comedy act and not a theatrical piece.
There is hardly any movement for the actors and there is practically no use of lights. The sound, supervised by Amjad, left much to be desired.
What saves the production from complete disaster is decent performances. All actors had great comic timing and made the most of the evidently poor directions they were given. But even that could not save the evening from getting mundane and predictable. The humor in the sex jokes dries up faster than an open bottle of spirit and the surface level treatment of the subject at hand, aimed clearly as being a slapstick comedy, begins to gnaw at you brain.
And when the woman enters, all set to run riot in man world, one knows all too well where it is going. But what surprises you, in an absurd turn of events, is the sudden profundity introduced by the female narrator, recounting the eve-teasing and other common incidents that every woman has gone through in her life. Suddenly, it is not funny. While the intention of the writing is good, the sudden change in pace does it in. One is left feeling awkward about the situation rather than empathize and introspect. Perhaps a bit of a lead in would have helped.
All in all, "Gentlemen" is the kind of production which can be watched if you’d like to, as they say, leave your brain behind and go have some fun. And I say this because many in the audience had come with that intention and got what they wanted. It’s the sort of David Dhawan version of theater if you will. If you’re looking for an interesting exploration of male sexuality with enough theatrical magic packed in, then you better sit this one out.