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What makes a man a man explored at Actors’ Summit

Roy Berko
Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle

Until the late 1960s and 70s, the age of women’s liberation, the writings and speeches of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Bella Abzug, MS magazine, and the National Women’s Caucus, men knew what it was like to be a man.   They were the center of the patriarchal family.  They were the bread winners, the disciplinarians, role models, because father knew best.  The macho man!

That’s not the pattern any longer.  Men are going to stylists, getting plastic surgery to look younger, changing diapers, taking over the role of childrearing, being sensitive, using words like “male bonding” and “relationship,” and wearing clothing of such colors as purple, red and, even pink.  Most importantly, they aren’t sure what their roles are as lover and husband.

Sean Christopher Lewis, the National New Play Network (NNPN) playwright in residence, seized upon the male befuddled state of mind and wrote MANNING UP, a play getting its world premiere at not only Akron’s Actors’ Summit, but at Riverside Theatre (Iowa City, IA) and Salt Lake Acting Company (Salt Lake City, UT).  NNPN champions the development of new plays by giving each of three theatres $7000 to champion the selected new work.  So far, 29 new plays have been produced.

Lewis, either from experience or observation, knows his subject well.  It’s impossible to watch the goings on of two men (Raymond and Donnie) in a basement “man cave” and not realize that their “I am man, see me roar” world has collapsed around them.  In fact, they are planning on attending a “maninar,” a seminar that teaches the modern man how to navigate the new world in which he must travel.

As the duo, both of whom are expectant fathers, discuss, in panic and confusion, such topics as “men don’t have best friends,” “I’m afraid of losing who I am,” “existing as an idiot savant of manliness,” the meaning of being “emotionally absent,” and that “the difference between men and government bond, is that eventually a government bond matures.”  Through using the empty chair technique of Gestalt counseling, we find out much about the men’s insecurities.

As Lewis describes the goings on, the duo is “Looking at the dads they’ve seen and grown up with, though this doesn’t seem the best proposition.  Maninars, Primal Screams and therapy sessions fill their night in Raymond’s basement as they wonder how to be the men they need to for the women upstairs.”

Raymond is an actor who is fighting any semblance of being a modern sensitive man.  He’s afraid of losing who he is, especially since he had such a poor father figure to emulate.

Donnie is a college professor of 14th century English literature, who is filled with fear, acts with caution, is sexually naïve, and displays high anger control.  He is in total fear of fatherhood.

Lewis’s script is more television sitcom than play, but it evokes laughter by pulling out the ridiculousness of the plight of a modern suburban man and how he has been emasculated by the women’s movement and lives in fear of doing the wrong thing because men no longer have the manual on how to be a man.

Director Neil Thackaberry pulls out all the farce plugs, including knocking down doors and overblown hysteria, to set a furious pace.

Peter Voinovich (Raymond) and Keith Stevens (Donnie), who are real-life brothers-in-law and have recently gone through the throes of new fatherhood, have a great time on stage.  They both develop clear characters.  Stevens, whose mobile face often reflects the “deer caught in the headlights look” of a timid academic, unused to operating without a lesson plan, is excellent.  Voinovich, the bigger, more gruff of the two, rants and raves with great buffoonery.  Since the play takes place in New Jersey, the goings on would have been enhanced by hearing some “Joisey” accents.

Capsule judgement: MANNING UP, like the more entertaining comic sitcoms (think EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND or SUBURGATORY), delights while making a few thought provoking points about the plight of the modern male.  If you are looking for a fun evening of escapism, this is it!

For tickets to, which runs through, call 330-374-7568 or go to