Take on tox­ic masculinity 

Philly Fringe 2019 presents Male Tears: A Clown Castration’

In
3 minute read
Toxic what? Travis Draper (below) and Nathan Alford-Tate in ‘Male Tears.’ (Photo by Jeanne Lyons.)
Toxic what? Travis Draper (below) and Nathan Alford-Tate in ‘Male Tears.’ (Photo by Jeanne Lyons.)

At the start of Male Tears: A Clown Castration, co-creators and co-stars Nathan Alford-Tate and Travis Daniel Draper strenuously birth themselves out of tied-up bundles of kiddie sheets printed with sports equipment and whimsical little trucks. They don color-coordinated sweatbands on their wrists, and clasp each other in a grimacing, warlike handshake.

Male Tears, a work in progress, got its first public showing at the Maas building early in this year’s Fringe. Alford-Tate, Draper, and offstage co-creator Jeanne Lyons are all Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training MFA alums.

The way I feel

Director Rebecca Posner helms a fluid pastiche of gym-rat tropes, acrobatic dance interludes, a masturbatory musical moment to the tunes of Wicked, frat-boy initiation, a bullfight, and more. Alford-Tate and Draper discover each other in an animalistic approach, try a handshake (or is it wrestling?), and attempt strangled, explosive verbal niceties.

Hilarious, ballet-infused clowning gives way to more sinister stuff, like a folding chair draped in a sheet and topped with a curly red wig. Draper strokes the chair, crooning “what do you want to eat tonight?” The chair apparently doesn’t have much to say about her own desires, and Draper’s character grows incensed, yelling the same question again and again, until he violently hurls the “woman” across the room. Too many non-male folks already know that whether you actually speak up for yourself or stay small and quiet, the ensuing physical and/or emotional punishment is often exactly the same. And that can make even a simple question like where to go to dinner a lot tougher than it seems.

In another segment, both performers sit on the floor, miming criminally accurate dating profile pics and narrating men’s pseudo-feminist intros (“I understand women better than they understand themselves”) while smearing their bodies with canned yams. It’s yucky and uncomfortable. It doesn’t smell good. It brilliantly makes me feel the way I feel when I look at a lot of actual dating profiles.

Work in progress

But coming in at about 30 minutes, the show still feels very much like a work in progress. Allusions to vital conversations around consent, with the actors pointedly asking audience members if it’s ok before they touch them, could be expanded. And the show vacillates between displays of masculinity that are more light-heartedly queer (like the male performers humorously hitting on gay male audience members on opening night), versus ominous heterosexual characters.

The show could find rich ground exploring the gaps in ally-ship when we fail to honor intersectional identities that are all marginalized to different degrees under the same patriarchal codes (something white women like myself must always consider). BSR writer Jarrett McCreary meditated on similar questions recently in his piece about Netflix’s Tales of the City and Philly’s own “LGBTQIA+ community, or rather its multiple divided communities.” How are gay men (especially white cis ones), despite experiencing discrimination themselves, perpetuating the structures of toxic masculinity that exclude other, overlapping marginalized identities?

Life under the patriarchy

One example is the current sensation around Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot, which turned its five stars into icons of warm-hearted inclusivity and self-love. But detractors are also quick to point out that much of the show’s fashion and even cooking advice is inherently fat-phobic, directing tacit shame at larger bodies by dressing them and feeding them first and foremost to look or become smaller, and prodigiously praising thin bodies.

In Male Tears, a character whose romantic advance has been rebuffed wails that he doesn’t want the recent object of his affection anyway—she’s fat. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could chip beyond acknowledging that this response is a common example of a childish male entitlement that won’t take a “no,” and realize that demonizing fatness itself is also a symptom of life under the patriarchy?

This show already carries the Pig Iron school’s trademark commitment to creative ideas; daring, synergistic physicality; and deeply-grounded performance partnerships. I’ll be interested to see where it goes. Anyone interested in the show’s future iterations can check out its GoFundMe page.

What, When, Where

Male Tears: A Clown Castration. By Nathan Alford-Tate, Travis Daniel Draper, Rebecca Posner, and Jeanne Lyons. Directed by Rebecca Posner. Through September 9, 2019 at the Maas Building, 1325 N. Randolph Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.

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