Jeff Mihelich is blind. He is also gay. He also enjoys going to the theater, the Guthrie and Patrick’s Cabaret being among his favorites. For a blind and gay man to actually see a play called Puppetry of the Penis, well, that would be like hitting the trifecta, right?
That’s what Mihelich thought when he requested the services of an “audio descriptor” for the local staging of Puppetry. The show is really no different than others that have sprung from New York and hit the road, like Stomp, Riverdance, and the Blue Man Group. Sure, the “genital origami” thing is a little edgy, but there was nudity in Hair and Angels in America, and the general public didn’t find that too hard to swallow.
At the show, Mihelich hoped to get the sight gags by wearing a single earpiece, which picked up the voice of Rick Jacobson, the interpreter. Jacobson sat in a tiny booth behind the audience at the Mixed Blood Theatre and his disembodied voice sounded a little like a hypnotist’s: “You are in the center of the room. There are seats to your left and right. Here comes a woman with a pink feather boa and a crown. She is crossing the stage.”
What Jacobson didn’t have to describe to his visually impaired listener and eavesdropping journalist was how the middle-aged woman in the boa and a cocktail fog ended up stealing the show. This was quite an accomplishment, considering that the crowd popped thirty-five dollars each to see two naked guys, one American and one Australian, make balloon animals with their genitals.
“Okay, the lights are going down. There is smoke blowing across the stage.” Jacobson quietly began the narration. The two guys ran out, wearing only sneakers and capes, and positioned themselves behind two mic stands. Crouching between them was a woman with a video camera. The rest of the show was projected, in extreme close-up, on a large screen behind the puppeteers.
They recited the opening disclaimers, reminding the audience that there would be full frontal nudity and that only adults should be in attendance, which is weird for a show that would probably appeal most to a group of nine-year-olds in a backyard with a refrigerator box. Jacobson discreetly interjected visual cues, “The performers are both fairly athletic-looking with nice little treasure trails.” Jacobson, it turns out, has worked with Mihelich before and is also gay. This made it possible for him to use language that would normally get a person fired from any other job.
The on-stage patter started. “Now I’ll have to ask everyone to be quiet for this next little fella,” said the Australian, lending a nature-show tone to the boy-island, tree-house ambiance. Jacobson whispered, “The American has turned around and looks like he’s working really hard on something. Now he turns to the audience.” The Australian continued as the video camera zoomed in for an autopsy-clear image of the other guy’s hairy crotch. “I think if we’re lucky we’ll be able to see this shy little creature.” Jacobson sounded like a golf announcer. “He’s pulling his ball sack up and over his dick so all you can see is balls. Now he’s slowly revealing the head of the dick, like it’s peeking over the top.” As the audience performed the requisite “Awwwwwww,” the Australian landed the punch line. “That’s right, folks! It’s the Australian Hairy-Backed Turtle!”
Which, in fact, looked like a fairly unappealing knot of male flesh. The audience shrieked and squealed and cheered. Mihelich and his partner stared straight ahead.
After quite a lot of this sort of thing, someone from the audience, a middle-aged birthday gal with a fire-engine shriek, got invited onstage for the usual audience-participation gag. By the time this was over, her siren overtook the penis parade. Since the crowd was dominated by what seemed to be a drunken bachelorette party, they really weren’t there for the dialogue.
Later, Mihelich described his experience. “I couldn’t hear the describer at all. The women were yelling and screaming and blocking him out. I don’t think a gay audience would have screamed that much.” In the end, it didn’t matter that much. Both of us agreed that I really didn’t need to see that. —Sari Gordon