In Playwrights Horizons’ “Mankind,” playwright-director Robert O’Hara envisions a future society when women have vanished from the face of the earth and men must shoulder the burdens of human procreation. The offbeat premise is intriguing, but the writer fails to take it all the way, choosing a surreal treatment that is visually stunning (kudos to designers Clint Ramos and Alex Jainchill) but intellectually hollow.
After having unprotected casual sex with sexy Mark (Anson Mount of “Inhumans”), Jason (Bobby Moreno) suddenly finds himself pregnant. In their all-male society, this proves to be even more of a transgression than in the hetero world of the distant past. In fact, when Jason attempts to have an abortion, he’s arrested for attempted murder and thrown into prison. Andre De Shields, who cuts a strong figure in a number of roles, is especially daunting as a trial lawyer who delivers a fire-and-brimstone condemnation of abortion.
Despite their unorthodox roles, both Moreno and Mount manage the tricky job of keeping Jason and Mark human. Moreno takes special care not to play pregnant Jason as a man who experiences pregnancy in exactly the same way as any woman.
Nonetheless, the play soon finds itself in trouble, mainly because O’Hara, doubling as director, hasn’t quite decided how he wants us to feel about Jason’s dilemma. Is it this unmarried man’s sole responsibility, as it usually is with women, to anticipate the possible consequences of recreational sex? And once he does find himself accidentally pregnant, is it his job to get un-pregnant? Or must he raise the child on his own?
These concerns take on added urgency when the child turns out to be a girl — the first one born in a hundred years to this futuristic society and, after a sudden early death, the object of a religious cult. Blown up to the size of a small whale, overlaid in gold paint and mounted on a golden catafalque, the idol of Cry-Baby, as the living child was known, is a cool piece of pop art and well worthy of the adoration paid by solemn priests in red robes.
At this point, Cry-Baby’s human fathers become extraneous and the realism they brought to the narrative is thrown to the winds. From now on, it’s all surrealism, all the time and all the way. A great golden temple is built to house the gigantic golden idol, and money is exchanged, as it always is in golden temples.
Robed Feminists mingle with the audience, encouraging agreeable men to pass around tiny golden replicas of Cry-Baby, which, alas, must be returned at the end of this stylized ritual. There’s even a Hymn to accompany the ceremony to honor the She-Goddess Wo-Men, returned to earth upon the death of her beloved sacrificial child, Cry-Baby. Or something like that.
Despite being twisted, the Christian symbolism is clever, and the audience is free to make of it what they will. But it’s alarming to realize that, although the play seems to have come to an end, it’s only intermission and there’s another whole act to go.