The thing about “The Thing About Men” is that “thing” is just the word for it. No more descriptive noun seems appropriate for this bland, insipid new Off Broadway musical about that most generic of subjects, marital infidelity.
The perps are the authors of the long-running revue “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and Jimmy Roberts (music). This time, they’ve borrowed a plot from the 1985 movie “Men,” by Doris Dorrie. German comedy is possibly not the most auspicious place to search for adaptable material, so it probably shouldn’t be surprising that the story unfolds as a series of strained comic devices.
In the opening minutes, go-getting ad exec Tom (Marc Kudisch) discovers his wife, Lucy (Leah Hocking), is cheating on him. Why? “He looks at me, Tom, and he listens, and he sees something more,” says she. It doesn’t help that Tom is a workaholic and a serial philanderer, and none too deep either. He philosophizes in song thus: “Oh I’m a man, a wonderful man/Life was so great, till the shit hit the fan.”
The injured Tom stomps his foot — “My Porsche is due for servicing,” he petulantly announces, amid the shattered ruins of his marriage. “You’re going to have to take it in for me” — and promptly checks out of job and home. (There are two kids somewhere, although they scarcely seem to impinge on the consciousness of either parent.)
In the first of several contrivances, Tom proceeds to move in with Sebastian (Ron Bohmer), the downtown artist with whom Lucy has been fooling around. Sing it, Tom: “He needs a roommate, he’s out of money/I need a room — Huh! — Isn’t that funny?” We know Sebastian is a serious artist ’cause he lives in a messy loft, wears lots of cool man jewelry and has long hair (a very scary wig, actually, and pity Mr. Bohmer).
Sebastian, despite loft and wig and jewelry, is really no more interesting or distinctive than Tom or Lucy, unfortunately. But let’s let him describe himself, once again in song: “I’m not a suit, I’m not a tie/Please let me specify/I’m just a very artistic, happy, holistic/Thank God I’m a free, easy guy. …”
Combined, the three characters in this musical have the personality and charm of a doorstop. Professional but utilitarian performances from the three leads don’t help — even the normally likable Kudisch’s handsome tenor begins to grate on the ear when it is enslaved by DiPietro’s plodding rhyme schemes for two hours. Roberts’ bland music is no great help, either.
Such wit as the production has is supplied by the clever scene-setting projections by Elaine J. McCarthy (Richard Hoover’s set, painted an ugly shade of blue, is otherwise undistinguished) and the scene-stealing antics of Jennifer Simard, who, along with Daniel Reichard, vigorously plays a series of small, mostly comic supporting roles.
Mark Clements directs with a dopey obviousness that cozies right up to the material, which scavenges for laughs from penis-size jokes and gay innuendo (a silly sequence in which Sebastian straddles Tom — snigger snigger — to give him a back massage). When it is not thus engaged, DiPietro’s book slogs through a series of farcical complications that result in funky Sebastian’s metamorphosis, after manipulation by his new roomie, into a suit-and-tie-wearing facsimile of Tom. Naturally, Lucy’s ardor cools instantly — it was the hairdo that got her, apparently. Cue happy-sad ending in which all three sing an upbeat anthem extolling their newfound wisdom: “You can’t have it all.”
Coming from this crew, that’s an extraordinary understatement.