Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Macho Like Me, March 26, 2011 at The Matrix Theatre, Los Angeles

Helie Lee, writer of two acclaimed books, spent six and a half months undercover as a man so that she could experience male privilege and prove to herself (and maybe her readers) that men certainly do have it easier. What she discovered is that life just isn't that simple. Part documentary (using parts of her documentary film of the same name), part speech and part scripted performance, Helie Lee's one woman show is an interesting blend that highlights her experience and tells her story of discovering at least some of what it means to be a man.

We're immediately taken with the setup. In her late 30's, her parents are really putting on the pressure (and blind dates) to get her married away, shown in some hilarious video segments where her South Korean parents directly address the camera. We have some acting-video-speech mix as her ordeal makes her lash out against guys and finally, we hit the experiment, where most of the drama is on the screen and Helie's hindsight reactions and revelations provide much of the comedy and personal insight. Amidst Helie's own story also comes into relief the story of David, an architect with whom Helie strikes up a friendship with, and he highlights some of what she learns about being a man and the impact that masculinity has on the men who abide by its many unspoken tenets.

The whole thing ends up being done from a comedy-inflected angle, as while much of what she goes through definitely seemed difficult for her, in hindsight, many of her experiences are also things that we can laugh at. And the comic tone works well to contrast against her clearly angst-ridden struggles, once she gets into actually trying to be accepted as one of the guys. While I wouldn't call her observations revelatory, I do think her own female perspective on masculinity is a particularly helpful voice for both men and women who want to learn a thing or two about masculinity from the outside.

Helie herself is clearly not a trained actress and so some of her performance comes across as a bit rough (but perhaps charming in her earnestness), but she does seem to have overcome most of the issues with self-consciousness. Her timing with the visual footage was solid and the integration really helped keep the show paced well. Also, the whole stage was well used and symbolic visual elements, including props and wardrobe, helped add some flavor to moments that might have been a bit dry.

All in all, I think this is a fantastic show for women in particular to watch as it provides insight, from a female perspective, into the relationship between men and the masculinity they live by. It's lively, funny and still has moments of heart, even if it's not exactly a mind-blowing degree of insight. The presentation and the charming woman at the center of it, keeps it interesting. Recommended. 8/10.