Masculinity, manliness and masochism, what do they really mean and what do we mean when we use these words to talk about someone? Pablo Pakula’s Masculine Expressions of my Creative Prowess promises to be a show dedicated to tackling these questions and hopefully shedding some light on the situation.

Toxic masculinity is a hot topic right now, as well it should be, and I sat in the dark waiting for the show with high hopes of a creative, Judith Butler-fuelled piece. Pakula steps onto the stage in used-to-be-white boxers, holding balloons while words like “confidence”, “certainty” and “control” are projected onto the back wall. Pakula quickly shouts up to the sound box that the song is wrong, it changes and we’re back on our way. But, on our way to where?

Pakula tells sporadic, unconnected stories, punctuated with constant interruptions about the sound and how he doesn’t know quite where he is in the show. No kidding. He strips down to a jock strap and spreads the (literal) seeds he has taken from the front of them around the stage, then suddenly he drops everything and shares a quick memory from childhood where he’s using his genitalia to turn the pages of a picture book. Just when I’m starting to feel like I’m being held hostage by all the symbolism, he asks to be slapped by audience members and I’m left grasping for a meaning that I’d probably be a little afraid to find out. The 80-minute show feels frantic and with all the many, many costume changes, I fear we don’t ever really get to grasps with what is hiding behind personal and societal notions of masculinity.

There’s something very likeable about Pakula and I’m sure that what he’s trying to do is admirable, I just have no idea what that is. I wanted to hear more from him; I wanted to hear about his experiences, his life and his struggle with the constructed ideal of a masculine man. The glimpses he allows us are fascinating, but they are brief and frustratingly fragmented. Before I can lean forward and ask more, we’re onto another costume change, this time into heels and a gorilla mask. Masculine Expressions of my Creative Prowess is definitely a feat of creativity, but it lacks any and all direction.

“It’s not about control”, Pakula tells us, while frantically trying to set alight the spray of a Lynx aerosol can. No, it certainly isn’t.

Masculine Expressions of my Creative Prowess played at the Camden People’s Theatre until September 30 2017.

Photo: Kim Conway