I am always amazed by the skill of the male talent I work with in the porn industry. Being able to hold a rock-hard boner under hot lights, in weird locations, while vigorously fucking someone who might be a total stranger, is a skill that few possess without chemical assistance.
As a person with a vagina, I have the privilege of putting on a smile, lubing up, and still being able to give an authentic and hot performance whether I'm physically turned on or not. People with penises don't really have that luxury, and when someone has trouble getting a pop shot, or maintaining an erection at all, it can definitely get awkward.
Even when there's no camera crew, I've found that men can get very emotional, and sometimes even angry, if their equipment doesn't work the way they hope it will.
Former 49ers draft pick and Actors Studio alumnus Scott Barry explores these very themes in his new one-man show, Rise, which plays Fridays and Saturdays at the Exit Theatre until May 23.
It's not easy for most people to talk frankly about impotence, or what Barry refers to as the “Lord Voldemort” of men's issues: that which must not be named.
The play chronicles Barry's journey battling his own inability to hold an erection, and despite how palpably uncomfortable the subject is for most men, Barry places the subject at the center of this project.
As the lights come up, one of the first things he says to the audience (which for this preview performance consisted of just me and my boyfriend: not awkward at all) is, “Every time I start to tell this story, I think to myself, 'Why does it have to be this story?!'”
As the play unfolds, we learn what we already know: This is about a lot more than just sex.
As a football-player-turned-construction-worker and a self-described “commitment-phobe man child,” Barry finds himself single in his early 40s and unhappy with his life. He starts practicing yoga and soon falls for the twentysomething yoga babe of his dreams, only to discover that consummating their relationship with his penis seems to be a no-go.
He soon realizes he can't even get to boner-town via porn and strip clubs. That's the case for plenty of people who aren't impotent, but Barry doesn't even entertain the idea that he just might be one of those people for a second.
Instead of switching it up and experimenting with the kinds of sex he could have without his penis, Barry embarks on a mission to “fix” himself via self-help medicine and sheer will.
Wrapped up in his quest for a boner are questions about his masculine identity and the more than 40 years of messages about what a “real man” is supposed to be able to do.
He changes his diet — more oysters and red meat, no soy. He distances himself from the yoga babe. He tries desperately to fix his embarrassing problem so he can attain some kind of Californicated Leave It To Beaver dream with her, which to him is contingent on his ability to hold his morning wood for more than two minutes.
Barry disintegrates the fourth wall from the very first line and tells his brutally honest tale with the ease and clarity of a long-winded yet seriously entertaining late-night confession over a bottle of gin and a joint.
Barry is a seasoned professional, and it shows in both the writing and the performance. He seamlessly moves between characters such as Bridgitte, the bitchy French ex-girlfriend he runs into at Costco; Candy, the day shift stripper at an all-nude Van Nuys gentleman's club; and his alcoholic rancher grandfather, whom Barry learns has some embarrassing secrets of own.
The play has a “happy ending,” of course, but I won't spoil it for you.
Barry's story is indicative of the lack of understanding that many men have about their sexuality, especially as they age. Masculinity has such a narrow window of what is acceptable, but people are multifaceted and complex. Barry's show reminds us that even big former 49ers players can have the occasional dick problem.