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Defending the caveboy?

A straight guy's take on the shifting definitions of gender


Adam Bergeron puts a lot on the line in A Guy's Tale, his solo show running through July 20 in UNC's Hamilton Hall. And that's to say the least. On some levels, this brand of performance approaches the ultimate in theatrical dares: After all, where do you hide when you're performing your own script, on stage, alone, in front of a roomful of strangers for, say, an hour or so?

If anything, the premise of this Guy's Tale considerably elevates Bergeron's risks. For if a host of women and gay men have probed changing gender roles and sexuality in a broad range of performances, the silence on these issues from heterosexual male artists has been deafening by comparison.

We've seen a continuum of views expressed in vivid, controversial works including Karen Finley's We Keep Our Victims Ready, Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues and Tim Miller's My Queer Body, just for starters.

As for the het-boy contingent there's ... well, Rob Becker in Defending the Caveman.

Yes, something is decidedly wrong with this picture.

Not that this show has all--or even most--of the answers. In his early 20s, Bergeron is entirely credible in his performance as that slightly scuzzy college roommate down the hall who gets to cajole us about our liquid recreation of the night before, dispensing dubious upperclassman wisdom along with Kellogg's Frosted Flakes in a breakfast debriefing.

For all that, his script still suggests a playwright in the early stages of his craft. A Guy's Tale lacks much of the sophistication and self-awareness we saw, for example, in the work of Mac Rogers, who did memorable work several years ago during his undergraduate days at UNC.

This is a potentially fatal shortcoming, particularly for a work devoted to telling the tale of young relationships and human sexuality from a "conventional male" point of view--whatever that might be.

For too much of the show, Bergeron's character has all the answers--even when he clearly hasn't got a clue. We wince when his text turns whiny, as it does on more than one occasion. His character does his cause even fewer favors when he observes that "sex is to a man what talking is to a woman," dismisses the topic of objectification as just "a part of life," and repeatedly differentiates between sex and what he calls "the hand jive" with a female partner.

Potentially more alarming, we don't believe his character senses anything wrong in the stalking behavior he relates, "surprising" a woman who's apparently in the process of dumping him during her work shift at a restaurant, before ringing her phone repeatedly until 3 a.m. the following morning.

Granted, Bergeron's text shoots itself in the foot when his character gets stuck dispensing his male version of the facts of life. But ironically, it's most useful when it clearly depicts a young and nice enough guy who, for all his pontification, clearly knows so little about relationships, intimacy and the opposite sex.

For there's one point feminist artists have routinely missed in their varied representations of relationships: The patriarchy hasn't done a number of us guys a lot of favors, either. Bergeron's character's truest lived moments come when he's bewildered at--and defenseless from--the utter inadequacy of all he "knows" about women.

Bergeron takes pains to stress that his play is not overtly autobiographical. But if we ever were convinced the playwright actually knew more than his character clearly doesn't, we'd have an author with enough distance on his subject to speak to its errors and mistaken assumptions as well as its truths.

It's par for the course when a theatrical character doesn't know what he doesn't know. In this case, however, we wonder if the playwright's in the same boat.

As things stand, A Guy's Tale constitutes a report from an immature young man's relational ground zero; a document of false knowledge but very real pain, ultimately related with inadequate insight. This manifesto from the men's side unintentionally shows most clearly just how far these men have yet to go.

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