When I first saw publicity for The Testosterone Monologues at the PS Grille (now PS 1515), I imagined some guy playing with his penis -- literally or metaphorically -- in a nasty, smoky joint. Surprise number one: PS 1515 is a nice place, well-appointed, shiny wood fittings, roses on the tables. There's no kitchen at the moment, but a restaurant is being planned that features high-end appetizers (we heard rumors about filet mignon on a stick).
Surprise number two: Ed Ward isn't an annoying exhibitionist, and The Testosterone Monologues does not focus on the male genitalia. I'd advise the poet-performer to change his title, except that it really does describe the program: three stories about maleness, each set in a very specific American time and place.
The first monologue is a ghost story Ward wrote some years back for his six-year-old son. It takes place in 1880s Denver and features a sheriff, a robber and a blue parakeet. Wearing a black shirt, black boots, black pants and a black cowboy hat, Ward delivers the piece stern and straight, but it's actually a silly-funny tale about a bird trained to case homes and a police capture facilitated by a trail of bird poop. The ending is oddly wistful.
The second piece unfolds in 1976, a revealing flashback to Denver hipster street life, post-Kerouac but pre- the greedy '80s and corporate '90s. Riding high on a gambling win, Ward enters a strobe-lit nightclub for some dancing and flirting, meets a woman, gets her high, and agrees to rendezvous with her at the House of Pies. Naturally, complications ensue, including a run-in with police. Ward is a good performer, confident and strong-voiced, projecting a kind of middle-aged Beat persona. Although the police episode goes on a little too long, the monologue effortlessly evokes the drunken city nights and sense of limitless possibility of the era.
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It's Ward's final monologue, "Jerry Judge," that really lifts the performance above the sphere of the mundane, however. He begins by evoking his inner-city boyhood in early 1960s Philadelphia, and a fight that took place between two neighborhood boys, Bobby Ethridge and Jerry Judge. Some years later, a college-educated and more sophisticated Ward returns to his old haunts with an upper-middle-class Jewish girlfriend, an anthropologist fascinated by his background. They go into a bar.
This visit -- clearly autobiographical -- happened to occur on the night when Philadelphia tough guy Jerry Judge was fighting an exhibition bout against world heavyweight champion George Foreman, and the pub was full of drunk and wildly exhilarated Philadelphians.
Ward gives us a blow-by-blow account of the fight, which -- if you believe his monologue -- was stolen from Judge by Foreman's handlers. (I Googled the event upon my return home and found that the exhibition fight, during which Foreman took on five challengers, had indeed occurred in 1965. I had no way of finding out whether Judge was winning when the fight was stopped.) What's wonderful about this piece is the way Ward communicates the almost-incoherent, glistening-eyed excitement of Judge's old pals, the sense of community, the feeling that the old neighborhood had become -- for those few incandescent moments -- the center of the world. Standing alone on a small, square stage, Ward makes you feel the crowd; you can almost smell the sweat- and testosterone-infused air.
So I guess the title has to stay. But I thought I'd get the word out about the pleasant bar.