Good relationship advice can come from anywhere, maybe you should try taking it from a one-man show.
Do you know what the greatest selling self-help book is of all time? Some fundamentalists amongst us might say “The Bible,” but we’ll leave that one alone and reveal the answer I was going for: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. The first copy of John Gray’s book hit shelves in 1992 and various editions of it have sold more than 50 million copies in the subsequent 20+ years. To put that in perspective, if you’re sitting in a full movie theater, at least two people in your row have read it, take that, Bridget Jones.
The somewhat tongue-in-cheek premise is that men and women are so different that one of them may as will be from the planet named after the Roman gods of war and love, respectively. Gray goes into detail regarding the biological differences between how the genders react to stress. Though some stereotyping is acknowledged, it clearly resonates with enough people that it has become well-read and received. That said, it’s spun off a few side products, one of which is an Off-Broadway show.
A one-man show is really only as good as its star and the star of Man Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus Live ably lives up to the task of pulling a non-fiction book onto the stage. Actor and writer Peter Story (yes, he jokes that his parents may as well have named him Phallus Tale) illustrates a lightly fictionalized version of his own romantic life with the central tenet being that it would be better and easier, two distinct things, if he and his wife understood and appreciated each other slightly more. Having worked and written for YourTango for almost 10 years, I’d have to say, “yeah, that pretty much sums up improving relationships right there.”
Story, a veteran actor, cut his teeth at a Timothy Busfield’s (THAT redheaded guy from thirtysomething and Field of Dreams, and director of at least one episode of every show you’ve liked in the last 15 years) B Street Theatre in California where he’d periodically star in a day show aimed at children and an evening one for adults. Accordingly, he brings a universally likable and affable style to the stage. He has the few extra pounds that characterize most married men in their 30s and beyond and wears it like a badge of maturity and lack of vanity. I’d like to point out I’m not married and I’m sure that I outweigh him by 10 pounds and am incredibly vain.
Speaking of age, as an almost 29 year-old, my date was the youngest person in attendance. And while the show has packed audiences of all ages outside of New York, the producers wonder if “young, hip New Yorkers” will appreciate life lessons from a heteronormative point of view which has been the fodder for the lion’s share of male-female interactive since the first ape said, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a roof and language and tools?” And, yes, it is important. Outside of the idea that clichés are cliché for a reason, let’s just say that you and your partner are different from each other in one way or another and that you should strive to understand and appreciate each other’s unconscious behavior. Maybe your girlfriend needs alone time when she gets home. Maybe your boyfriend appreciates being told that he’s handsome. And maybe your transgender friend-with-benefits gets a little cranky when his or her blood sugar takes a hardcore dip because lunch was not kosher. The circumstances aren’t necessarily immaterial but it takes only an iota of thought to apply it to your unique situation, you beautiful snowflake.
The theater, New World Stages on West 50th Street, is perfect for the show as a black box which holds nearly 400 people and has quality audio-video capacity. The video capability is especially important as John Gray and some adorable animations provide exclamation points and periods for Story’s points. Both Gray’s explanations, largely around the endocrinal differences of the genders, and the animation give Story a few seconds to wet his whistle and recharge for the next scene as it’s otherwise just him for the 100ish minutes (plus an intermission) of the show.
As someone who has produced and starred in a one-man show, I’m not typically a fan of the medium. Most of them trend towards self-indulgence and desire for the artist to be able to say, “you like me, you really, really like me!” after the curtain falls; Story, while likable, only tries to apply Gray’s relationship bona fides to a real world love story and have a few laughs along the way. Story’s Oklahoma sensibilities and Midwest non-accent makes the material at least as relatable as an episode of Seinfeld and allows you to forget he’s a classically trained professional actor (that’s a compliment). It’s a good date night and will provide at least one moment in which you stare at your partner with accusatory laser beams that say, “you do exactly that.” It’s in NYC through Thanksgiving and on tour throughout the USofA with dates through May 2016 after that.
Mars-Venus Live is directed by Mindy Cooper Grenke, written by Eric Coble, produced by Paul Emery and obviously based on the book by John Gray.