Playwrights' Perspectives

Playwright's Perspective: Mankind

By Robert O'Hara, Playwright

My partner will be upset when he reads this. Just the fact that I started this with the words “my partner” will be upsetting to him because he does not like it when I talk or write about us, and I rarely if ever do, but over the last decade we’ve had this ongoing conversation about whether to have a kid or not…mainly the “when” of it always gets us. When do we want to commit to so significantly changing our lives and our relationship and how — when we can’t even decide on what paint to use on a wall, couch to buy, movie to stream, or food to order — how on earth are we ever going to decide on when to have a kid? But the one thing that I have always found so profound when thinking about having a kid is something that men will never be able to experience, and that is the moment of sitting in a room and realizing that something is growing inside you. And yet it has indeed been men who have spent centuries trying to dictate and control the results of that “moment.”

I’ve been thinking about Mankind…just the word “Mankind”: has man EVER been kind?

What WAR was ever started by a Woman? What genocide, atomic bomb, nuclear threat, holy crusade has EVER been generated by a Woman? When in the history of Humanity has Man EVER been Kind? Especially to Women.

And yet, without Women ALLOWING us to FEED off their Bodies for nine months and more, we would not be able to make up horrific laws surrounding the rights of their bodies. All of this began to Eat at me right around the time I was preparing the New York premiere of my play Bootycandy, and Playwrights Horizons approached me about commissioning a new play.

Wait a minute, that’s a lie…

Two years before Playwrights Horizons produced Bootycandy, another theater company that gave life to that play’s beginnings, Partial Comfort Productions, asked me if I might write a ten-minute play for their tenth anniversary and let them present it during an evening of ten-minute plays. I did. That short play became the first scene of this full-length play, Mankind.

I’ve been thinking about Mankind…just the word “Mankind”: has man EVER been kind?

Okay, now we’re back. 

Oh wait…

So about 25 years ago, while in college, I encountered two plays. Both are blistering satires that would inspire all of my creative energy from that day to this very moment. They were George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum and Douglas Turner Ward’s Day of Absence, the former from which I basically stole everything that is in my play Bootycandy, and the latter from which I’m hoping to steal just as much for Mankind. I’m a thief. I readily admit it… Day of Absence is about the day when white folks wake up and ALLLLLLLL the black people on earth are gone. And the white folks spend a terrifyingly hilarious day having to deal with that absence and their overwhelming deficiencies due to nothing but white folks being alive. One of the most powerful and vicious scenes is a conversation over who will take care of a white baby that can’t stop screaming. John and his wife Mary verbally attack one another because their maid, Lula, has not shown up to take care of a child they are simply incapable of taking care of — and haven’t ever had to because black folks took care of white babies. It is laugh-out-loud funny. And dark.

The twist, of course, to Day of Absence is that the cast made up entirely of White Characters is to be played by a cast of Black Actors in White Face. It is that Twist that gives the play its Shout, if you will.

Mankind is a play set 100 years after the female body has been legislated out of a viable existence, and women have become extinct. Now, Men must live underneath the same rules they had put into place upon the female body, and now they must come face to face with themselves in its absence.

Like Wolfe’s and Ward’s works, Mankind is a satiric cautionary tale.

Lit with gasoline.

And tossed into the Age of Trump.