“Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” was a revolutionary book when it came out in 1992. Its author, relationship counselor John Gray, based the work on his belief that most common relationship problems for heterosexual individuals are a result of fundamental psychological differences between the sexes (exemplified by the title’s metaphor that men and women are from different planets).
However, several studies done between 2015 and 2019 have disproved much of Gray’s work based on neuroscience.
“The idea of the male brain and the female brain suggests that each is a characteristically homogenous thing, and that whoever has got a male brain, say, will have the same kind of aptitudes, preferences and personalities as everyone else with that ‘type’ of brain,” neuroscientist Gina Rippon told The Guardian in a 2019 interview. “We now know that is not the case.”
So, why is “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” still a beloved New York Times bestselling book and acclaimed off-Broadway play coming to The Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, this month? We asked the one-man-show’s lead, Ryan Drummond.
“I’m sure there will be some person in every crowd that doesn’t buy this, but the important thing is that the info at its heart is just as pertinent today as it was when the book came out,” Drummond said by phone. “It’s not about putting genders into certain boxes, it’s all about human behavior, and that never really changes. I think the show has done a good job of updating it in a way.”
Drummond recalled first reading the script for “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” as he was taking the train from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Manhattan to appear on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” in December 1998. More than two decades later, he’s been performing the role since 2017.
The original off-Broadway director, Mindy Cooper, was a former colleague of Drummond’s, and she immediately thought of him when she got involved with the play’s first national tour. However, his child-ren were quite young at the time (around 3 and 5 years old), and he wasn’t in a place to join a touring production that would keep him away from home for long stretches of time.
About four years ago, she reached out again, and the timing was much better. Cooper still thought he’d be a great fit, and Drummond was still intrigued by the script, particularly as a husband and father in a heterosexual marriage. So, he auditioned for the owner of the show and snagged the part.
“I’ve been doing theater for about 40 years and had never done a one-man show, so it was kind of a bucket list thing in my mind,” he said. “I had read the book so long ago and was fascinated by it ... I have a few passions in life, but my top one is human behavior, more so even than acting, I love learning about humans and the reasons we do the things we do, so I thought, ‘Oh, this will be really really fun.’”
Drummond started rehearsing the part in late 2016 and performed his first show in January 2017. He has a map at home on which he sticks a pin in every city he’s traveled to for the show, and he guesses he’s now reached about 50 pins.
The biggest challenge, he said, of those early days, was getting used to being the only person onstage. If he messed up, there wasn’t another person to improv with or save the scene somehow – it was up to him to fight through his mistakes. But being alone up there also offered him some exciting opportunities he never got from sharing the stage.
“The script is a skeleton, and you get to add your own experiences from your own life,” he said. “The director was big on ‘let’s make this you, let’s make it yours and bring yourself to the show.’ That ended up being a big benefit, so when I’m preparing to do the show, I don’t have to get into character, it’s just me. I make sure my water bottle is filled and head out there and just start talking to people.”
When he gets up in front of the audience, it also helps that the message he’s getting across is one he believes in. He said he likes that “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” doesn’t pick on one sex more than the other and instead gives relatable, real-life examples of scenarios in which both sexes cause relationship issues.
Gray has a thoughtful and easily digestible way of explaining his points, Drummond added, that avoids tired stereotypes like men being lazy beer-drinking husbands.
“You find out that, according to him, we have different wiring and chemicals that work in different ways, so he talks, for example, about how men and women think,” he said. “How men are very single-file action creatures, our minds are like conveyor belts. We close a box and move it along … but women have the ability to open 73 boxes all at once, and men just can’t do that ... because that’s not how we’re wired.”
Drummond said he thinks the reason the show works is because of how this material is presented. The play is set up similarly to a stand-up comedy act, so everything is humorous and meant to be relatable – so relatable and try-it-at-home-friendly, that Drummond said he’s successfully used tactics explained in the show in his own marriage.
“The show does a good job of showing women how to get into a man’s heart and vice versa,” he said. “I’ve had numerous people throughout the years tell me they started doing these things and quoting the show at my house and it’s helped, it’s like a marriage counseling session snuck into a comedy routine, and you get to put it into your life and reap the benefits of it.”