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by Pia K. Hansen

Here at The Inlander, we've been getting some phone calls lately. It seems that some of you are peeved about penises.

"I don't like the homosexual focus of your newspaper," said one reader.

"You obviously don't care about the community at all," said another.

"That is gross and disgusting and totally not necessary," said a third.

And my personal favorite: "What I find so offensive is seeing the word 'penis' so huge."

These are just a handful of the calls that have come our way ever since we started running an ad for The Puppetry of the Penis, which comes to the Met this week.

Since its debut at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 1998, the show has played for sold-out crowds across Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and most recently here in the United States. Yes, the show has generated some controversy on its way -- even a few picketers here and there -- but mostly it's made people laugh themselves silly and made theater owners and promoters very happy.

"For every negative comment, there are probably two or three that are positive about it," says Anthony Bayles, the show's Portland-based promoter. "I'm certain that there are lots of people in Spokane who are happy to see different shows and different art come to town. We are doing great -- the show is almost sold out."

To those who think a penis show is simply too gross and unattractive, Bayles has this to say: "How many times in your life do you get to laugh at a penis?"

As a woman, I can answer that one: never.

"It's about humor," says Bayles. "It's a piece of skin used in a funny way." And by the way, this is the first time he's heard of anyone assuming the show is a gay show. "All you need to know about this show is that it's funny," says Bayles. "It's really that simple."

The Puppetry of the Penis show does not include gyrating hips, vibrating buttocks or oiled-up, rock-hard, leather-clad bodies. There are no leopard-print thongs either, mainly because the puppeteers are naked -- except for their sneakers and glittering capes.

"Society's way of seeing it is that if you are naked, you are sexual, but this isn't about sex at all," says David Friend, one of the show's two cast members. "It's entertainment for adults. I wouldn't bring kids in to see the show -- I mean, of course not, who would do that? But we get all kinds of people in the audience -- men, women and little old ladies. Especially the little old ladies seem to enjoy it."

Puppetry of the Penis basically consists of two naked men, twisting and turning their genitalia into dozens of shapes -- or "installations" as they prefer to call them. These installations resemble, for example, the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge (under construction), a hamburger and even the Loch Ness Monster.

Think balloon animals and you get the drift. The antics are projected onto a huge screen, so Friend - one of the two original Aussie performers -- promises a great view from every seat.

"We'll show you a three-story-tall penis," he says, with a chuckle. "Does size matter? Well, we don't talk about size, but we like to say that the more clay a sculptor has, the more he can create."

Yes, this involves full-frontal nudity.

No, the penises are not covered up in cute little outfits.

No, the performers don't touch each other.

Yes, it's safe to perform all of the installations, and the puppeteers have just released a book with easy-to-follow instructions on how to do the tricks.

"We have talked to a physician about this," says Simon Morley, who came up with the idea back in 1996. "We wanted to make sure that everything would work, you know, afterward. That there was no unintentional stretching of the, um, equipment. The doctor says we're fine as long as we don't cut off blood circulation for more than two minutes."

Currently, seven groups of puppeteers are touring the world with the show, and a Spanish-speaking as well as a French-speaking group is currently in training.

"All men can do this. It's very rare that someone can't," says Friend.

Morley says his favorite installation is "the emu" - a large ostrich-like bird with lots of feathers. Friend prefers "the sea anemone."

So, to stay in shape for all their shows, do they follow any secret training routines?

"Not really," says Friend, laughing and self-consciously patting his belly. "Basically, all you need to do is drink lots of beer and don't eat hamburgers or KFC every day."

Publication date: 09/04/03

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