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David Friend (top)
and Simon Morley (bottom)
in Puppetry of the Penis
If Puppetry of the Penis proves nothing else--and it doesn't--it's that trivial entertainment has not been rendered obsolete by the World Trade Center/Pentagon calamity. That two Australian men can manipulate their genitals into what they call "installations" while relatively normal men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, look on in mild amusement is evidence that silliness will continue to thrive.

At first, it's difficult to imagine anything less meaningful than Simon Morley and David "Friendy" Friend's act: They arrive to fanfare, doff their cheap capes, and proceed to torture their penises and testicles into shapes identified as the hamburger, the mollusk, the Loch Ness monster, the woman (parts one and two), the hungry bird, the winking eye, the wrist watch, the Eiffel Tower, etc. At one point, Morley holds a gilt frame over his pubic zone and, in the closest approach to wit that is made during the show, calls the resulting picture Jerry Falwell. Occasionally the limber pair use props, as when Morley stuffs his member--ouch!--through the knothole in a stick of wood and claims to be impersonating a squirrel.

Morley, who has long pre-Raphaelite hair, and Friend, who sports a mustache and cap, are personable fellows with relatively good physiques. But you can't help wondering why two grown men would want to twist their privates this way and that, other than for the obvious reason: to make a buck. They talk non-stop, though much of what they babble is verbal grout. At one point, they entice an audience member up for an especially graphic demonstration and then hand a Polaroid remembrance to the good sport. Copies, they quip, can be obtained on the Internet.

Incidentally, Morley and Friend are introduced by a figure identified as Priapus (Justin Morley), who comes out looking like Father Time and mutters some gibberish about genital origami (as all of this pretzel-bending has been dubbed) being an age-old practice. Then he makes his way to a television camera in the first row so that he can photograph his colleagues close-up and personal. The images, potential ticket buyers should be warned, appear larger than life on an upstage screen.

The performers found notoriety in their homeland before traveling to the Edinburgh Festival and on to England. They are said to draw packed houses wherever they go, but this is somewhat misleading: When I saw them in London, they played to a small crowd in a large house. That's right, I've now seen Puppetry of the Penis twice, which I suppose makes me a glutton for cruel and unusual punishment.

Not only that, but Morley, Friend, and their producers are somewhat dodgy about the unbilled standup comic who precedes them. On the night I attended, the audience warmer was Aussie Wendy Vousden, who varied penis jokes with breast jokes. In London, a different funny lady given this assignment stayed on for some time and then announced an intermission; Vousden only does about 15 minutes, then brings on the boys.

When I saw Puppetry of the Penis in London, the audience included at least two bachelorette parties. In other words, the same thing happened to this show abroad as has happened to Naked Boys Singing here: It's become a girl's-night-out attraction. While it seems slightly barmy to read any deeper meaning into the enterprise than what meets and greets the eye, it could be that Penis serves a purpose that no one has as yet articulated: It presents the male member as a harmless toy, nothing for a virgin bride (if there are any of those left) to worry her sugarplum head over. This entertainment is saying, explicitly, that the penis is simply a puppet. For women grappling not with penis envy but penis fear, it's a reassuring hour's introduction to the male sex organ's total lack of mystery. The show asks the rhetorical question, "Why be concerned about an old softie?"

No one's innocence, or what's left of it, is likely to be corrupted by Puppetry of the Penis. By the same token, the show is not likely to lift anyone's spirits higher than a foot stool.

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