Women Are Extinct. What's A Man To Do? -- 'Mankind' at Playwrights Horizons
"I love fables and I love allegories because you never know where they're going to lead you," says Robert O'Hara, whose world-premiere comedy Mankind is currently running at Playwrights Horizons. "It's like following a rabbit down a hole." That's certainly the experience audiences have at O'Hara's tongue-in-cheek critique of the patriarchy, set a 100 years or so hence when -- after centuries of mistreatment and government control -- women have been legislated out of existence. Men can now reproduce, just don't ask how. According to O'Hara, that's the beauty of fantastical writing.
"I wanted to explore what it would be like to watch two men deal with a pregnancy and whether this couple wants to have a child or not," says O'Hara, who also directs. "But the story morphed into a more explicit expression of religion, desire, and power. It's rare as a playwright that you're given the opportunity -- or the encouragement -- to be so imaginative. People want things to tie together neatly. Sometimes it's nice to upend that in your storytelling. That's what was fun about writing this. You're going into the unknown and that to me is the essence of a fable. Fables are about tossing as many possibilities into the air and you're simply catching story lines as opposed to catching answers. It requires a kind of faith."
Wild satirical tales that explore real-life issues are O'Hara's signature as both a playwright (his autobiographical, multi-genre Bootycandy about being a gay black man in America; his outrageous examination of addiction Barbecue) and director (the multicultural Wild West musical Bella). But he says as crazy as things may get in his work, he's always careful to give audiences relatable characters to latch on to. "In Mankind the two leads have to play the quote-unquote straight men of the play," he explains.