By Daniel McCoy; Directed by Heidi Handelsman
Produced by Richard Pictures and TLab Shares
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.11.18
Theaterlab, 357 West 36th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 8.7.18
June Ballinger and David Gelles in Dick Pix. Photo by Jody Christopherson.
BOTTOM LINE: A perverse and unsettling comedy that asks men to walk a mile in a woman’s shoes.
What if men were treated like women, and women like men? In the world of Daniel McCoy’s new play Dick Pix, the roles are truly reversed. Men are aggressively ogled by women and received with indignation when they decline female advances. Women use their power and status to make men feel small and insignificant.
The central plotline of Dick Pix, however, is more fascinating than just a mere sociological experiment in role reversal. Calvin (David Gelles), an art photographer, is out of ideas for his next show. His art dealer Fyn (Bruce Jones) advises him to “clear his head and see what rises.” Enter the titular character. As a way of reclaiming the male body, Calvin decides to exhibit 15 extreme close-ups of his dick. Much to the chagrin of his girlfriend and press agent Grace (Kate Abbruzzese), the exhibition is tremendously successful and lucrative, but not for the reasons that Calvin had hoped.
Under the direction of Heidi Handelsman, each actor brings a dose of colorful spunk to the play with little concern about chewing the scenery. Dick Pix is clearly meant to be absurd, and the actors give us permission to laugh by not being precious in their performances. Bruce Jones definitely stands out as the transgender art dealer, delivering an idiosyncratic and animated character while expressing great affection for her. Sarah Pencheff’s set design is simple, but very clever. She creates a great moment of comedy when the dick pix are revealed, not by subverting our expectations but simply delaying them.
You might wonder from whom Calvin is reclaiming the male body—does he feel that his penis has been co-opted by someone? A fair amount of suspension of disbelief is necessary for the sake of McCoy’s exercise. Ultimately, Dick Pix feels less like a cohesive story and more like a series of vignettes that allow the playwright to voice his views on the ways men and women treat each other. Many of these vignettes are tangential; some even violate the conceit of the play. For example, McCoy’s concept is intact when men are bullied by women. But he falls back on familiar tropes when he allows a male construction worker to bemoan how it feels when women ignore his catcalls and ogling.
Dick Pix culminates on a particularly uncomfortable note when Calvin is invited to speak at the 92nd Street Y. After expressing discontent that his photos were not received the way he had intended, the audience suggests that he should let them drink his blood. Given that the 92nd Street Y identifies as a Jewish organization, this moment evokes, perhaps unintentionally, the idea of blood libel—the antiquated canard that Jews enjoy feasting on the blood of gentiles. For a play built on subverting stereotypes, McCoy seems to have no interest in subverting this one.
Of course, its entirely possible that McCoy sets this scene at the 92nd Street Y because it’s one of the few cultural institutions in the city where artists and authors speak about their work. It's also quite possible that McCoy is unaware of the 92nd Street Y's history as a Jewish organization, or else is ignorant of how the age-old accusation of blood libel has been used to demonize Jews. But does this matter? If McCoy is not being intentionally anti-Semitic, he is nevertheless uninformed. I’m not terribly comfortable with either option.
(Dick Pix plays at Theaterlab, 357 West 36th Street, through August 11, 2018. The running time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Dick Pix runs in rep with McCoy's Perfect Teeth. Performances of one or the other are Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 6 and 8:30; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $20 ($32 for both plays) and are available at perfectpixplays.com.)
Dick Pix is by Daniel McCoy. Directed by Heidi Handelsman. Set Design by Sarah Pencheff. Costume Design by Liam O'Brien. Lighting Design by Cecilia Durbin. Projection Design by Kelly Colbern and Mark Costello. Sound Design by Emily Auciello. Movement Direction by Wendy Seyb. Violence Design by Nafeesa Monroe. Stage Manager is Christopher Denver.
The cast is June Ballinger, Bruce Jones, Lynne Marie Rosenberg, Erinn Holmes, David Gelles, and Kate Abbruzzese.