Diana Wichtel: A bit limp - even with Viagra

I suppose they thought The Penis Monologues would sound silly. But it seems odd, and a little sad, that the masculine answer to Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues should be named after a drug for erectile dysfunction. Somehow it sounds more like a wake than a "celebration" of men and their ... er ... tackle.

The Viagra Monologues is not even a Boys' Own celebration. A woman had to do it for them, poor lambs. It is written by Geraldine Brophy, who played the marvellously histrionic matriarch, Moira, on Shortland Street.

But it was bound to happen. Something similar has overseas, where comedian Richard Herring apparently had them rolling in the aisles at an Edinburgh Fringe Festival with his own answer to Ensler, the more virile-sounding The Talking Cock. Yes, lots of knob jokes, amusing euphemisms ("Russell the fur-faced chicken") and statistics.

We had been to The Vagina Monologues when it showed here so, in the interests of gender equality, when free tickets to The Viagra Monologues materialised, we went.

I write about the experience with some trepidation, knowing how sensitive our luvvies are. Critics who dared to have a bad time on their watch have felt the wrath of such gods of the Auckland theatre scene as Simon Prast and Oliver Driver.

It has always surprised me that the same people who love to challenge us with penises, vaginas, gruelling rape scenes and bad American accents should become so cross when challenged themselves.

Maybe because so many of them have worked on our iconic national soap, they seem to take a medicinal approach to their offerings - you may not enjoy this but it is good for you, so hold your nose and take it without complaining.

Never mind. I'll cover myself by saying up front that the audience the night we went had a ... er ... ball. If that couple behind us had enjoyed themselves any more, we'd have been forced to leave.

This was opening night, so the place was stocked with Shortland Street stars, past, present and future. A receptive audience. But as everyone around us laughed themselves sick at every reference to parts private, I became morose. I wasn't a huge fan of The Vagina Monologues, either. If I want to hear swear-words being chanted I can go to the office. There's something coercive about celebratory theatre, like being at a revivalist meeting.

Not that I was offended by The Viagra Monologues. If only. There was something very safe about it all. Even the grittier bits featuring an abused priest or a male prostitute.

It was all too cute and coy, from the little boy talking about where his penis lives to the old guy who had found a new woman and a vat of Viagra. "Via-agra!" he chanted. "Via-agra!". It just didn't pack the same punch, though Pfizer will no doubt be pleased.

It wasn't the acting. Jason Hoyte, Paul Barrett and Greg Johnson were excellent. I joined the ecstatic applause occasionally, not because I'd been moved to more than violent yawns by any of the monologues but because these guys were acting their hearts out.

If The Vagina Monologues was way too smug and self-satisfied, its grounding in real stories produced the odd genuine kick in the guts. And it was taboo-breaking. When it comes to the two "c" words, there's no contest about which one will get you into trouble when uttered in public.

For shock value, penises are at a disadvantage. These days you can't get away from them. Since a couple of years back, when the late, great Kevin Smith starred in Love Mussel, a television mockumentary about an alarmingly shaped shellfish, prime time has been a running phallic joke.

We have had The Naked Penis (far more explicit than The Naked Vagina), Sports Cafe's infamous Nude Day and endless ads for erectile irregularities. If you wanted to see men working their genitals into amusing shapes like the Eiffel Tower or a hamburger The Puppetry of the Penis made sure you could.

Maleness is in danger of being celebrated to death, with the rugby World Cup still to come.

To be fair, The Viagra Monologues tried to get beyond the obvious, but there was no exploration of the really problematic parts of male sexuality - rape, paedophilia, abuse. The men presented were funny, harmless creatures, working their sexual histories into amusing shapes.

For all their explicitness (and despite a sometimes vaguely Nuremburg Rally atmosphere) Ensler's monologues left something of the power and mystery of sex intact. Its dangerous, chaotic nature was explored but not sanitised.

It occurred to me that I was underwhelmed by The Viagra Monologues because I'm not, well, a man. So I asked my partner. "Possibly the most boring theatre I've ever seen in my life," he said. "You can quote me."

I also acknowledge that it is easy for women to get grumpy about the male experience. When penises have to push out the equivalent of a nine-pound bowling ball, then they can talk.

Now medical science has declared that frequent masturbation is good for prostates. The best women can hope for is to be ordered to drink less, limit sexual partners, have their first baby young, breastfeed, preferably for years on end ... the fun just never ends.

But in the end it was nothing to do with gender. I just wasn't entertained. A friend who works in reproductive health points out that any positive talk about these things is good, so The Viagra Monologues probably fulfils a useful public health role. For something more intellectually challenging and less wimpy - men could take it, surely - we're still waiting.

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