If you’re from the Chicago area, you’ve probably seen playwright Messiah Equiano’s popular, comedic coming-of-age play The Penis Monologues at least once, and most likely twice. Since November 2013, Equiano and his talented team have produced the play 19 times on a modest budget, and it has quickly become a favorite among local Black women and men, selling out before showtime each night.
After successfully bringing the show to Atlanta’s Clark Atlanta University (his alma mater) last year, Equiano, 33, plans to kick off a national tour this summer with two performances in Chi-town (7/25). Then, if the praise, buzz, and support continue, the show will head to a theater space near you.
Despite its male-centric title, Equiano insists that women are always first in line to see the play. “Eighty five percent of the audience is made up of women between 25-50,” he says. “The play is really a great launching pad for conversations between men and women about male pride, ego, sexuality, relationships and things of that nature.”
So, what’s all of the buzz really about? Read our chat with the passionate playwright below.
ESSENCE: There are many versions of ‘The Penis Monologues’ out there, what makes yours different?
MESSIAH EQUIANO: We see the story of one man’s life as told in 7-year intervals. His name is Soloman James. I haven’t seen all of the other productions, but with some of them, I know that you see multiple men talking about issues relating to their own experiences. With this play you get to know one man, his life, his ups and downs, and his triumphs and tribulations. He’s a guy that every man can relate to in some capacity. He’s telling his story. Plus, it is an interactive experience.
ESSENCE: Which male experiences does it tackle?
Wetting the bed. Being sexually molested by a babysitter. Masturbation. Wet dreams. Male pride. Relationships. Homosexuality. Interracial dating – why some Black men may choose to date White women.
ESSENCE: Why do you think women are the core audience?
A lot of men don’t go to plays period. If you see a man at a play, 9 times out of 10, his woman wanted to go to the play. (Laughs.) Women come for birthdays, bachelorettes and ladies night, but more brothers are coming to theaters now with their women for date night. Women just enjoy it. We even have a “penis naming contest” as part of the show. It’s a colorful game where ladies guess how many other words are used instead of penis, which for a long time you couldn’t even say on the radio. You’re probably not going to laugh this much at any other show. It’s nothing crass, nothing rude, but very real issues are discussed that men and women want to touch on.
ESSENCE: What are some of their takeaways after watching?
It really depends on where each individual is in his or her life. I’ve had mothers come up to me after the show and say, “Oh, so that’s what my teenage son is doing for three hours in the bathroom!” Mostly boys and their mothers don’t talk about those sorts of issues with each other. Maybe their takeaway will be that they understand their teenage sons better, or their man. We also tackle the conversations a man has with his penis because a man and his penis may not always be on the same page at the same time. The play will give them a better understanding of a man’s penis both literally and figuratively.
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