By Ernece B. Kelly
Although Robert O’Hara’s new, multi-racial play, “Mankind” is hilarious while calling attention to numerous social ills–among them climate change, domestic surveillance and unconscionable money grabbing–it doesn’t settle down long or deep enough into its central idea to be altogether satisfying.
That women lack control over their bodies and are far from sharing male privileges, is the central idea. Yes, this is widely known in the 21st Century, but the young, African-American, and gay, O’Hara has set his two-act play in a future where women are extinct.
Jason (Bobby Moreno) and Mark (Anson Mount) at the center of the drama are grappling with the question of what to do with the baby Jason is carrying. Although it’s illegal, they’re inclined to get an abortion since they’re only casual lovers and don’t want to be fathers.
Their journey involves an OB/GYN Doctor (David Ryan Smith), a lawyer (the spectacular Andre De Shields in two scenery chewing scenes), a detective (Arier Shafir), and Mark’s father (Stephen Schnetzer).
Eventually Jason has the baby, known as “Cry Baby,” but in a fantastical turn of events–partly because she is the first female born in decades– she becomes the center of a religion and both fathers the High Priests.
“This has gone too far,” one of them says, as they sit with crowns on their head, slowly coming to understand that the rapidly growing groups of feminists–already splitting into competing sects– want to kill non-believers.
“Mankind” is given a veneer of cohesiveness by its technical aspects, including Set Designer Clint Ramos’ inventive staging consisting of an ever surprising rotating set and of Sound Designer Lindsay Jones’ original music ranging from the majestic to light pop.
Perhaps the pinnacle of playwright O’Hara’s originality is reached when the audience sings a hymn sounding much like Catholic liturgy, “Most merciful Goddess.” Cards with the verses have been distributed along with doll-size replicas of the larger-than-life Cry Baby statue dominating center-stage.
“Mankind” despite its polished cast, exuberant technical features, biting satire, and intriguing premise, is ultimately weighted down by an overreach that drags an excess of issues on stage. “Mankind” run thru January 28th at Playwrights Horizons, West of Times Square.