In the history of theater, there have been some great titles — “The Tempest,” “A Doll’s House,” “Death of a Salesman” — but few names have summed up the content of a show as succinctly as “Puppetry of the Penis”: Anyone buying a ticket will pretty much know what they’re in for. For an hour, audiences gasp, furrow their brows and giggle as two grown men stand onstage, wearing only sneakers and white socks, and manipulate their genitals to resemble various objects. It’s not exactly theater and it sure ain’t high art, but it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. Something to tell the grandchildren about.
About a century ago, there was a European vaudeville artist named Le Petomaine, who gained fame by farting out musical tunes. As talents go, this was not a great one, but as novelty performer, he was in the Pantheon. Only time will tell if “Puppetry” creators-stars Simon Morley and David Friend are given a similarly exalted state in the history of legit oddities.
The show begins with a 20-minute standup routine by Alexandra McHale, or as she calls herself, “the official fluffer of the show.” McHale touches on familiar turf for a comic — dieting, TV commercials, body functions — but her one-liners are often original, and her funny session sets the tone for the show: sassy, off-color, but never crude.
Morley and Friend then arrive for their hour of power. The two stand on either side of the stage, with microphones, while every little tweak and tuck are shown in gigantic closeup on a big-screen monitor that fills the back wall of the stage. In all, there are about 40 “dick tricks,” as they call them.
A few rate high on the wince-factor. Morley evokes groans by inserting his member into a wooden stick (to depict a squirrel) or by stretching everything to resemble a windsail. Yow. Ow. Oy. But, Friend intones with mock solemnity, “None of these tricks hurt us at all — because we are professionals!”
A handful (so to speak) of tricks involve so much manipulation that it’s obvious what is being depicted, even if it’s not clear exactly which appendages are being used. When Friend, for example, transformed his privates into various pieces of fried chicken, at least one audience member was heard to stare at the folds of flesh and laugh, “What is that, exactly?”
But the majority of the routines gain laughs. Highlights include Morley’s Loch Ness Monster and Friend’s baby bird.
Both puppeteers are Aussies in their mid-30s. Friend is the more boisterous, a real “laddie.” Simon is more genteel (well, if you consider standing onstage naked and blowing on your penis as if it were a didgeridoo to be genteel).
It’s a one-joke premise, but the two shape the material (so to speak) so that it’s never boring. “Thank you all for laughing at our genitals,” Morley says cheerily at the end, and the sentiment sums up the evening.
Before the show begins, audience members may get the same sheepish feeling as when they are renting a porno tape (I hope I don’t run into anybody I know!), but it’s hard to resist the performers’ good-natured silliness. Audiences will laugh; they may feel idiotic by doing so, but they’ll laugh anyway. It’s contagious: If we can’t laugh at genitals, what can we laugh at?
Morley began doing these configurations for a calendar. He then recruited Friend for a stage show, which hit big at the 1998 Melbourne Comedy Festival and moved to the Edinburgh Fringe Fest, the West End and New York. There are now several companies performing around the globe.
Morley & Friend will soon exit the Coronet, to be replaced by a new duo. The program notes that the show’s Web site offers details on “L.A. auditions for new penis puppeteers!” The audition sessions must be incredible. If ABC is looking for a hit series, this is one reality show that could leave “American Idol” in the dust.