In Penelope Skinner’s play Angry Alan, it feels liberating and a little naughty to laugh in the lead character Roger’s face. Roger (Donald Sage Mackay) is a newbie to the Men’s Rights Movement and he’s found answers to all his problems through very “serious” YouTube videos that expose the “truth” (the play allegedly uses real clips).
Roger has his “red pill moment” where he finally understands what is really going on around him. He likens it to discovering he’s been in a cage. Now that he knows about the cage he is in it explains why he’s been so depressed, angry, and frustrated since he lost his corporate job at AT&T. Working as a third-assistant manager of a Safeway grocery store, living with a girlfriend and paying out a lot of alimony to his ex-wife and teenage son who he never sees, he cannot imagine why he’s been so full of rage and pain and fatigue. But the videos provide the clarity to him.
These videos prey on unhappy, disappointed men’s feelings. They offer men an enemy and a solution to their powerlessness and disconnection—which apparently is, you’ve been forced to exist in a “gynocentric society”. Women running the world are causing ordinary men to suffer.
It may be news to you you’ve been living in a gynocentric world and you’re just a gynocentric girl.
In this musty Underbelly bunker, it’s safe to laugh at this man and his fear of being oppressed by some sort of all-powerful giant Gaia vagina dentata destroying him and every other man on earth through world domination. Skinner wants us to laugh.
Laughing at men is a dangerous game outside theatres. So I’m relishing these guffaws. Maybe I need them.
I had a man threaten me on Twitter this year. He suggested I take his gun and use it to shoot myself in the head. I knew it was bad when other trolls who were shouting at me, turned on this man and said he’d gone too far.
This is all because I tweeted about a dead bird. Some Friday afternoon out-loud pondering about rape culture, anthropomorphic narratives, and where we let our empathy lie. My primary mistake was using words like feminism and rape culture. Waving a red flag willy-nilly in front of the internet bull.
Though the real mistake was Twitter promoting my tweet beyond my theater twitter followers and bumping it up to global scrutiny by putting it in Moments. Suddenly accounts with 150,000 followers are pointing an arrow at me as “the worst” and an example of social justice warriors run amok. For five days men and women (and probably Russian troll accounts) shouted at me over my stupid ideas in a vicious pile-on.
Someday I hope I can laugh about it. But the vulnerability I felt under the waves and waves of anger directed at me still has not disappeared. That kind of aggregated fury is in fact terrifying.
Yet this kind of ferocious internet attack is another facet of the world of Angry Alan which Skinner does not focus on. Though she does touch on the capitalistic savvy of Alan who scoops up anger from folks like Roger, monetizes it, and sells it back to those men.
On one level, isn’t that what Twitter is doing too.
Yet, there is truth in Roger’s anguish. But while men are suffering from toxic masculinity, the answer is not: let’s bottle that impotent rage and hurl it like a Molotov cocktail at feminism or women.
Toxic masculinity is damaging to men and women. Though it keeps coming up at the Fringe this year, I’m starting to think how much “everyday theatre” is toxic masculinity theatre. Death of a Salesman. Put down the gas pipe, Willy Loman and talk about how much of your identity is wrapped up in providing for your family and what destructive models of masculinity you’ve given to your sons. Hamlet, go back to Wittenberg and get a therapist and join a group on grief. Dead dads are hard even after they’re gone. Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Put down the bottles Tyrone family. Society has been killing men for a long time with destructive, restrictive expectations of masculinity, and theatre has been chronicling it.
None of this feels new but maybe in naming it we can begin to dismantle it. We have to.
I start to think it’s not fair of me to laugh at a man so clearly grasping for any panacea for his pain. But that’s also the problem with Skinner’s play. Roger starts out as a pretty benign figure who is increasingly destabilizing his life with this rhetoric. It’s poisoning him and making him sicker. He crows about “changing” and “becoming someone new.” Naturally this is headed towards violence.
While the catalyst for Roger’s breakdown is something quite serious and delicate, the play barrels right on through it. It’s unfortunate. There’s a fascinating character here. The play is looking at a very specific subculture which is growing and impacting us all. But the execution ends up breezily skirting a lot of potential depth in the subject.
And my laughter does not feel good anymore.
Angry Alan is on at Underbelly until 26th August. More info here.