Understatement of the year? This week, Amesbury director Tim Diering, during an interview at Left Bank breakfast hotspot Andyman: "It's amazing the things you come up with when you Google the phrase 'penis head,'” he says, his expression calm, projecting utter innocence. Amazing? Well, sure. Everything from the helpful Wiki citation with many colorful nicknames that body part has, to Web MD on the many gross things that can happen down there, to orgasmic customer reviews of products that make you flinch just thinking about them, but there's not a whole lot of info, until you refine your search, about penis head costumes.
Which Diering needs because? Because, while some people might be dickheads, metaphorically, they won't look the part on stage unless they are properly costumed. And the production, a series of short, inter-connected plays by Michael Kimball called "I Fall for You," calls for a penis as a character. Yes, you read right. The disembodied penis of a man consumed with guilt about his former owner's infidelity is essentially the lead character in the three-part opening piece, "The Richard Cycle." He first pops up when Dan and Madge, late-in-life newlyweds in a sexless marriage, are out golfing. Then, oops, there he is again in church, when, ooh-la-la, a flirtatious French woman slides into their pew. In the third piece, the title piece, Richard climbs a 23-storey building and hangs out on a ledge, a King Dong, of sorts, contemplating the ultimate issues of tumescence and flaccidity.
[The complete show will be staged in September at the Firehouse in a co-production with the Society for the Development of the Arts and Humanities, the non-profit organization that manages the venue. The last piece, "Say No More,” which looks at two couples who make a game out of the awkward silences in their conversations, will be staged at the New England Fringe Festival in October.
Kimball, whose play "Ghosts of Ocean House" was nominated for an Edgar Award in 2007 and was recently banned from the Utah State Theatre for its themes of incest, madness and religious domination, says he can't say ("Really, I can't") what prompted him to write "I Wrestle an Old Friend," the first piece in the trilogy, and, when he saw it at the Tannery as a reading last June at the North Shore Readers Theatre Collaborative, the monthly play development series put together by Ron Pullins, Leslie Powell and Marc Clopton at the Tannery, he thought about ditching it all together, but, instead, wham-bam, kicked out a sequel and then a final episode tying it all together. He called on Diering, who had directed the Tannery reading, to pull together the full production, leaving the Amesbury resident to ponder the question of how do you costume a character who is rarely seen in public and never discussed in polite company.
"There are lots of ways you could go with something like this," says Diering, whose last directing gig, a production of Powell and Pullins's "Movie Mogul" took second-place audience favorite honors at last year's Fringe Fest: (You know, full-bodied, or ... no, we're not going there, even though it's a production that dares you to do it.) In the end he decides to keep it subtle — "Well, as subtle as you can be when one of your main characters is a disembodied penis," he says. Port regular David Houlden, last seen in the Gregory S. Moss-Steven Haley collaboration "Yankee City Theatre Project," will be wearing, well, think Coneheads, but adapt it to the material at hand.
The other sex-themed pieces in the production seems almost tame in comparison to the opening piece.
• In "Bar Exam," Kimball imagines a possible conversation that could take place if a woman were to run into her gynecologist at a singles bar.
• In "Estrus in Amazonia," a spoof of 1940s action movies, a time-traveling expedition to the island of Lesbos is sabotaged by a pilot who makes an unscheduled visit to the Amazons during mating season.
• In "Reorient," a sexual reorientation coaches arrange a first date between a gay man and a lesbian woman.
• In "Say No More," two couples make a sport of seeing who can create the longest silence, then the game turns brutal.
And while the production seems broad and cartoony, encouraging nervous giggles and bad puns, it is a serious production with serious, even dark moments. "There's a lot of layers to what's going on," says Diering, who will direct Kimball's "Santa Come Home" in November at the Player's Ring in Portsmouth, N.H. "Like they say, It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye."
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: "I Fall for You," a co-production of the Society for the Development of the Arts and Humanities and New York Theatre Company, runs Sept. 18 to 20 at the Firehouse, 1 Market Square, Newburyport. Tim Diering directs. The cast features Kathleen Anderson, David Houlden, Jack Rushton and Jennifer Wilson. Tickets are $15, or $13 for students and SDAH members. For information, call 978-462-7332 or click here: www.firehouse.org.]