To the sound of The King singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, the two men enter wearing sparkling and spangled Elvis capes, and nothing more. These are the stars of Puppetry of the Penis, and—if it can be said of anyone—they have nothing to hide. More accurately, they are not the stars at all, but the men behind the stars, indeed directly behind them. Simon Morley, the 33-year-old Australian who dreamed up the show, and fellow Aussie Daniel Lewry, bill themselves as puppeteers, kogan-like figures who manipulate the equipment and pull the strings and everything else.
The two artistes proceed to demonstrate what the show trumpets as 'the ancient art of genital origami' to a crowded press conference at the Drake Hotel. In an exhibition the likes of which the staid Drake has never seen—at least not in the public rooms—Mssrs. Morley and Lewry manipulate their cocks, balls and scrotums into such dick tricks as The Eiffel Tower, The Hamburger, the Loch Ness Monster and The Windsurfer, just a sampling of more than 40 such 'installations' (their word) presented in the one-hour show.
Opening the floor for questions from the press, the two are asked about the appeal of the show for gay audiences by an obviously straight reporter who thinks he's cool, but isn't. 'Naturally, you must have a big gay audience,' he says. 'Not so much,' Morley replies. 'Actually, old ladies love the show best.'
What the reporter doesn't perceive is that the vast majority of gay men have seen more dicks up close than you can shake a stick at, so Puppetry of the Penis holds little appeal on that front, unless the guys are prodigies. What gay men will pay to see is a handsome face and a hot body, and on both counts the puppeteers are pleasantly average.
But are they prodigies, you want to know. You're eager for details, and so I WILL beat around their bush: Morley is of larger than average dimensions, while Lewry is of more man-on-the-street size. Both gentlemen are circumcised. There's no such thing as too much information with THIS show. Puppetry of the Penis is not about size, but about flexibility. Indeed, Morley declares that some gentlemen who have auditioned for the show have been too big. 'There's enough shock value in the show as it is,' he explains. 'We don't want to intimidate every guy in the audience. We like to think we're closer to the average guy.'
Your intrepid correspondent from the Windy City Times wanted to know if they continue to develop new repertory for their show. Simon said no, but added 'we try to localize our performance, so we hope to get around and have a look at your landmarks.' One shouldn't be surprised if they come up with their own version of the Picasso sculpture, the Water Tower or the John Hancock Building.
What they do, of course, is what every guy in the world does who's ever looked at himself in a mirror. We fellas have built-in toys, and there's not one of us—not a single one, gay or straight—who hasn't played with it. We've all yanked our weenie to see what it would look like if it were just a little longer, or tucked it between our legs to see what we'd look like as a woman, or shook our pelvises to watch it flop around. Perhaps women play with their breasts, too; I can't say. The difference with the Puppetry of the Penis guys is that they get paid for playing with themselves.
If you get the idea that the whole show is something of a joke, you have the right idea. Morley was a comedy promoter back in Oz before creating the show with an old buddy, David Friend, and performing it for the first time on New Year's Eve, 1997. An eight-month Australian tour sprang from their appearance at the 1998 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, followed by the 2000 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a five-month run in London's West End, sell-out runs in Montreal and Toronto, and a year-plus New York run in 2001-2002.
Now, Morley and Friend are auditioning and training additional puppeteers to create touring editions of the show for the United States, France, Spain, Scandinavia, Italy, Japan and Iceland. They will, in fact, hold auditions here in Chicago. 'Anyone can audition,' Morley says. No acting talent required. His advice to wannabe penis puppeteers it to have 'a complete lack of shame, and be sure you warm up.' Curiously, up until now all the show's cast members have been circumcised. Morely indicates that for the European and Japanese markets, they expect to recruit at least some gentlemen who have been left as nature intended.
He and the show's producers also emphasize that Puppetry of the Penis is intended for adults, and is absolutely non-sexual. Indeed, the non-sexual and obviously comedic nature of the piece have diffused would-be protests along the way. Morley and the show's producers said that in the United Kingdom there had been some religious protesters, but that the Bishop of Colchester defended the work, saying there is nothing wicked about the human body. However, certain American theaters have refused to book the show, based on the title and subject matter. To give women equal time, The Vagina Monologues has suffered the same persecution, even though it's a fully clothed show.
Puppetry of the Penis opens Feb. 18 at the Lakeshore Theatre (the old Broadway movie house) at Belmont and Broadway, and will run at least through March 16. Besides 60 minutes of genital origami, audiences also will enjoy an as-yet-unnamed local stand-up comic as an opening act. Tickets (773) 472-3492. And don't ask for a seat down front: a giant video screen guarantees even those in the last row won't miss a dick trick.