Puppetry of the Penis
nytheatre.com review by David Ian Lee
August 5, 2009
In Puppetry of the Penis, two nude men manipulate their penises like puppets in the creation of a series of theatrical "installations." If this sounds to you like a good time, the return of Simon Morley & David Friend's original "dick trick" revue to New York will be cause to celebrate; if the thought of two naked guys, their tackle just outside of arm's reach, bending and twisting their genitals into representations of George Bush, sea mollusks, and servings of Kentucky Fried Chicken does not appeal to you, the good folks at Puppetry of the Penis would be the first to suggest a matinee of Billy Elliot.
There is no other preparatory barometer for this show: You're in for exactly what you think you're in for, only much more of it than would be fair (and fun) to reveal here. Performers Christopher J. Cannon (the shorter one, who uses his program bio to thank his parents for not cutting off his foreskin) and Rich Binning (tall, circumcised) first appear on stage wearing athletic shoes and superhero capes. Within moments, the capes are tossed off, and the two accomplished college-educated theatre professionals spend the next 45 minutes immodestly transfiguring their bathing suit areas.
In fairness, Cannon and Binning rarely utilize their penises in any fashion that traditionalists would recognize as puppetry (though a certain diminutive Jedi Master does make a cameo appearance, sure to be revisited by many a male audience member in the privacy of their showers and bedrooms). Rather, the feats of testicular fortitude on display have their antecedents in the variety show acts of—say—Rich Little: These are impressions and personifications, ranging from celebrities to global landmarks to an astonishing number of food products. Some of the displays of genital origami do bare a striking resemblance to their varied nomenclatures ("The Loch Ness Monster" must be seen to be believed), but most are liberal at best. Additionally, much of the dialogue in the unencumbered-by-a-story-arc book is just plain bad; the guys' banter seems designed for punctuation by rimshot.
However, these criticisms miss the mark Puppetry of the Penis ably hits: The fun to be had is in experiencing the sheer audacity of an evening of theatre called Puppetry of the Penis, and Cannon and Binning are nothing if not audacious! They leap off the stage, they interact with folks in the spitting seats, and they at times actually encourage audience members to snap pictures with their cell phones (you don't get that at Equus). They are good-natured and bold, to be sure, and seem to be having a lot of fun.
Puppetry of the Penis is paired with a warm-up act: one of three female "Guest Comedians" who work the house for the first 30 minutes of the evening. On the night I attended the show, Rachel Feinstein opened the night with a set laced with observations on racial differences and sexual mores. Feinstein's natural beauty and easy charm play to her advantage; her persona reminds one of Sarah Silverman's kewpie doll routine, only more whorish and with a drinking problem. Feinstein remains fully clothed, yet her bawdy antics and sly humor pair well with her male collaborators' "genital gesticulations."
It goes without saying that Puppetry of the Penis is explicit, graphic, and not for the faint-of-heart. It is impossible to not watch Puppetry of the Penis slack-jawed, for it is also hilarious, shocking, revolutionary, and a whole lot of other celebratory adjectives already used to laud the show a thousand times over. Best enjoyed with a couple of drinks, Puppetry of the Penis is funny, funny stuff.