Men are pigs. But so are women. So says Caroline V. McGraw. In her plays, though, particularly Lesser America’s upcoming The Bachelors, the porcine male is more glaringly, luridly, hilariously on display.
I don’t think you’re quite comprehending
A ’60s themed party means no one wears underwear
Girls with hair you can’t run your hand through so you’ve got to run your hand through something else
Henry, a casually misogynist cancer researcher, is the alpha asshole. His roommates and foils: Laurie, the solid-seeming good guy, and Kevin (aka Kevlar), the romantically crushed fellow who sullies the house they share with both emotional and physical mess.
Henry I have something to tell you.
Not now Kev
I put my cock in your slipper
And also I came in it.
The porcine male, as I said. Yet we feel sorry for Kevlar. His terminally ill girlfriend has just dumped him to have as much (literally) “FUCKING FUN” as possible in the months she has left. He takes refuge in fuzzy footwear.
Engagement ring for a slipper is only one month’s salary
A slipper is happy with a small gesture of affection
This slipper will never tell me to grow up
Slippers don’t die
We feel sorry for him—until we realize he’s more upset by his girlfriend’s non-monogamous sexual desires than by her illness.
In McGraw’s theatrical world, sex is scary (it makes you vulnerable to an actual monster in Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys), and women’s sexuality the scariest of all.
“I’ve always loved female suspense/horror writers whose work treats women as otherworldly vessels,” says McGraw, citing Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson. “Just being female is enough to make you sort of magic.”
Certainly this is true in The Vaults (New Georges Jam Fest 2014), the first McGraw play I saw, in which callous college grad John knowingly toys with the affections of a shy female friend.
Just because you think you’re all settled and fat and happy with Selma doesn’t mean I can’t have a little fun.
It’s fun to feed your own vanity at Momo’s expense?
Well. Yes. We’re young, Hally. Now’s the time to feed your vanity, get it nice and fat, so it has something to live on when you’re old and pruney.
John satisfyingly gets his just desserts—at the hands of a mystical female force, no less. “It’s a little bit wish fulfillment,” says McGraw. “If the world worked the way it should work, there would be more consequences for the actions of my male characters.”
But she also really likes the jerk.
“The cad is really interesting to me,” she discloses. “Why are we as audiences—and, you know, people—drawn to a cad? Does it depend on physical attractiveness or is it something more? How much do we let him get away with? When does charm give way to menace?”
When I note that most of her male characters are too hapless to be evil, but some genuinely are evil, McGraw laughs delightedly, then smilingly disagrees. (She seems a very sunny person, by the way, for a writer interested in sinister sexuality who cites Stephen King as a major influence.)
She tries to be “value-neutral,” actually.
Portia Krieger, director of both The Vaults and The Bachelors, elaborates: “I don’t think her male characters are evil. I feel very attracted to the men in her plays. She’s exploring some things that are terrifying and frustrating about male behavior, but also really attractive and fascinating. She’s investigating why we put up with men that are pigs, in a way that calls them out but also kind of honors them.”
In fact, “Haplessness can cause as much damage as willful destruction,” believes McGraw. “Men who treat women like precious objects and put them on a pedestal can be more dangerous than those who are openly misogynist. They deny women agency. They’re disingenuous.”
The most punishable thing in The Bachelors is not being honest with yourself about how you feel about sex.
Laurie, for example, will come violently to terms with his sensitive-new-age-guy identity by the end of the play.
Still, I did really enjoy when the colossal jerk in The Vaults got disappeared by the spirits of women wrongly (or rightly?) accused of witchcraft. And when the horrifying, would-be sex-enslaving creature under the bed in Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys was vanquished by a bookish teenage virgin. Girl power!
Too bad most of the powerful girls in The Vaults are, um, dead. I wonder uncomfortably about all of McGraw’s female characters: Are they in control, or are they victims?
“Both,” says McGraw. “Victim isn’t the right word; I would say self-destructive.”
Brandy of Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys is McGraw’s experiment with “what a female cad looks like. I often like to go back to the well of why the scary/upsetting/frightening is so magnetic, why self destruction can feel so incredible.”
But if you put these men in front of me, these physically ideal men, and had me pick one, blind instinct, I would grab the hand of the one who’s going to steal five bucks from my purse or force my legs apart and fuck me even though I playfully said I didn’t want to but I actually meant it or use my MAC lipstick to take down a phone number when there’s a pen right on my desk—
Uh do you mean rape?
It is sort of like rape, it ruins the point and the color stops distributing evenly and you have to use a lipstick brush like a jackass.
Disturbing, and so so funny.
The alarmingly reckless Brandy is saved by her female friendships (and by her work as a clown, I mean children’s entertainer), but she puts herself dangerously close to the edge beforehand, not unlike many a female protagonist of slasher films. Although in those films, it’s not usually the heroine’s choice to be pursued by a horrible monster. Or is it?
“Something I really like about Caroline’s plays, which is very challenging,” says director Krieger: “She always has a hyper-specific supernatural story she’s telling on top of a realistic story. The challenge is how much to convey that to the audience. One hundred percent of the people aren’t going to receive it, so how are we going to get it out there? The supernatural element in The Bachelors is much less prominent, but I think it is there for people who want to receive it.”
While there are ostensibly no female characters in The Bachelors, the men in McGraw plays tend to be haunted by offstage ghostly women.
You sound like my exgirlfriend
Haha no You sound like a composite Frankenstein monster made of all my ex-girlfriend’s subconscious thoughts
We laugh, and Reverb is an okay dude on the McGraw scale, but the ominousness of the suspense/horror genre is never far from hand. Even a woman’s thoughts can terrorize.
Yet I still think the scale here tips in favor of the men. McGraw counters, saying of The Bachelors: “Their lives haven’t been enriched by being attractive, straight, gainfully employed. They’re still a mess. Laurie is in his 30s, and he’s still terrified of women.”
She aims to make Judd Apatow-esque privileged male bad behavior less indulgently ha-ha-aren’t-they-funny (although it is that, too) and more pathetic. More emblematic of our troubled society.
McGraw believes: “What is evil is our culture of masculinity. The patriarchy is evil in equal degrees to men and women.”
Really? Men and women suffer equally?
“Well…,” McGraw concedes. “There is that quote: ‘Men are afraid women will laugh at them, and women are afraid men will kill them.’”
Then I realize that the women in Caroline V. McGraw plays aren’t scared of either. Dare I say: They’ve got balls.
The Bachelors, by Caroline V. McGraw, directed by Portia Krieger, runs November 5 – 29 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place, Manhattan). For tickets and further information, visit www.lesseramerica.com/the-bachelors.
Sonya Sobieski is a playwright and dramaturg.