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All-male ‘Mankind’ is just a giant step backward

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We hear it all the time. The theatre is a place to experiment, to take risks, and to welcome new voices.

Sometimes the experiment triumphs. And sometimes we get something else. We scratch our heads and wonder, “What is it?” (Think of the platypus).

Robert O’Hara’s “Mankind” at Playwrights Horizons wants us to believe we’re on a journey to an altered reality, one which will inspire insight into our own, you know, this one — where sexism, state power and organized religion each conspire to squash human rights and maintain control.

Ahem, look around. This bloviated reminder serves no one.

Poor “Mankind!” Playwrights Horizons backs a splashy production with a game cast and outstanding design work. But the play, which significantly began as a short one-act, stretches its flimsy conceit to the stratosphere, thanks to a generous budget.

For a satire, it’s limp. For a drama, it’s empty. For a spectacle, “Mankind” gives us its all. Perhaps this choice is a belief that more is not only more, but better — or maybe the piling on is just a convoluted statement on Trumpian excess. This does hit home: There’s nothing here, either.

The premise: This future contains no women.

None have been born (to men) in a hundred years. See what I mean about that short one-act?

“Mankind” does give us a strong cast (Andre de Shields, Bobby Moreno, Anson Mount, Stephen Schnetzer, Ariel Shafir and David Ryan Smith). They fully commit to this strange material, a tribute to the discipline of O’Hara, who directs his own text here.

The fanciful costumes of Dede M. Ayite, like the gilded surprises of Clint Ramos’s set design, offer a grand commentary on the proceedings. But they amount to an extravagant distraction to the play itself. I had to wonder what a stripped down, fevered nightmare version of O’Hara’s play might look like, just as I pondered its glib treatment of vital issues. Lip service in the cause of satire is no virtue.

We get an all-male world: Couples struggling, childbirth, tyranny, feminists, prisons, weddings, talk shows, and even a new religion complete with idols, vestments, ceremony and prayer.

All this foolishness supports the underlying point — men screw up, women are necessary. Long live women!

Get it?

I myself took comfort in another principle of the theatre — the freedom to try,and to fail. Here we have a textbook example of the downside.

“Mankind” wants to have its little cake — society’s a mess, fellas — and eat it, too. Hurrah for all those absent gals! But the writing is crippled by a labored concept gone bonkers, and no amount of campy diversions, thunderous sound cues, audience participation schemes or scenic elaborations can support such indulgence.

“Mankind” may eventually find a place of its own, on the wall, next to “Moose Murders” — right between the Edsel and New Coke.

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