Manning Up is a life-affirming, often poignant exploration of men’s insecurities as they face the uncontrollable uncertainties of first-time fatherhood.
The comedy, playing as part of a “Rolling World Premiere” at Actors’ Summit, is a two-man love fest that stars Keith Stevens and Peter Voinovich, both sons-in-law of theater co-artistic directors Neil Thackaberry and MaryJo Alexander.
The work, written by Sean Christopher Lewis, is presented through the National New Play Network, an alliance of nonprofit theaters that champions the development and production of new plays. Manning Up received Rolling World Premieres in Iowa City, Iowa, and Salt Lake City, Utah, in the latter part of 2012 and has now moved to Akron.
Directed by Thackaberry at Actors’ Summit, the play is set in a man cave with baseball memorabilia that’s part laundry room, part TV room and part bar in Long Island, N.Y. This is the haven of the gruff man’s man Raymond, played with a fair dose of fierceness by Voinovich.
At the other end of the spectrum is Stevens, who plays a great nerd in Donnie. This college professor has a funny part in his hair, glasses and uptight body language. Donnie is more emotional about his wife’s pregnancy than she is, and he can cry at the drop of a hat.
“I got a lot of rage in me,” Donnie says nervously when he talks about his failings as a man.
What’s sweet about this show is that it delves into the many neuroses men might have about looming fatherhood but may never verbalize. The guys reveal to each other the moments in their marriages that have made them feel most like a man and least like a man. All this is in preparation for a “man-inar” that Raymond insists they must take together to get in touch with their inner manhood.
The anecdotes are sweet and funny and reveal the depth of these guys’ love for both their wives, unseen offstage, and their unborn babies. As different as Raymond’s and Donnie’s personalities are, these “bros” are tight.
Stevens and Voinovich expertly play off their characters’ differences, including Donnie’s squeamishness and Raymond’s somewhat graphic references to sex and pregnancy.
“You’re like an idiot savant of manliness,” Raymond tells Donnie in one of the play’s best lines.
The play is for mature audiences, with humorous references to baby-making and changes in the female body from pregnancy. It’s the perfect role at the perfect time for Voinovich, whose wife, Sasha Thackaberry, just gave birth to son Spencer during the play’s rehearsal process.
Manning Up is both silly and funny as Raymond and Donnie get all worked up trying to express their primal screams in preparation for their “man-inar.” These guys may be insecure but Voinovich and Stevens skillfully create sympathetic characters who we know will rise to the challenge of fatherhood when the moment comes.
Men and women will enjoy both the baseball analogies these characters use about childbirth as well as poignant revelations such as this: “Family is the cosmos in that amazing woman’s belly.”
Manning Up’s most heartfelt moments come when Raymond and Donnie work their emotions out by taking turns talking to imaginary people in a chair, including people who have hurt them over the years. Most importantly, the men talk to themselves and learn to be kinder to themselves.
In this emotionally satisfying comedy, Raymond and Donnie, like many close friends, end up being the best form of therapy for each other.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.