Are you ready for John Michael's Penix?

Wed. August 12, 2015 11:11 AM by Anthony Morgano

john michael and the order of the penix

photo credit // chuck marcelo

'John Michael and the Order of the Penix' stirs up R-rated comedy in Chicago premiere Sunday, Aug 16.

Chicago, IL - Comprehensive sex education; gay sex with a puppet; a heartfelt coming-of-age story; Harry Potter. Dallas-native John Michael Colgin (who prefers to go by John Michael) promises all this and more in the Chicago premiere of his one-man show "John Michael and the Order of the Penix" at the 27th annual Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Festival this Sunday, August 16, at 8:45 p.m.

"Penix" is a hilarious, one-of-a-kind approach to safe sex "usually described by critics as a high-energy romp," according to John Michael, who credits the idea to a situation he encountered when working at a gay sex store ("I was really smooth at selling bottles of lube," he joked) in the Dallas Gayborhood. John Michael would upsell lube-buying customers by asking if they also needed condoms, usually eliciting a smile and a "thanks, I've got some" response. One day an 18-year-old boy struck a note when he responded that he didn't use condoms "'because it makes it less appealing on Grindr,'" John Michael said.

I was so dumbfounded that I took his money and he left -- I didn't know what to say, without being preachy," John Michael told "The show was made for him and in response to a massive increase in HIV-transmission rates in kids my age in Dallas at that time. The challenge was to couch the topics of reckless behavior and HIV/AIDS in a premise that is ridiculous and hilarious."

"I started listening to the stories of the generations who came before me," he continued. "When my older gay friends would describe surviving an epidemic that most of society ignored, I felt what young Harry Potter must have felt when he was first told of a mass-murdering wizard so fearful that people dare not say his name. I saw the parallel between the fear of saying Lord Voldemort's name and the fear of getting tested for STDS."

The show opens with an early 20's John Michael (he is 26 now) being kicked out by his parents' house for being too messy ("I tell the audience 'if I was kicked out for being gay I could got on the Ellen DeGeneres show'"). John Michael house-sits for a friend's swanky apartment in the Dallas gayborhood where he begins the inevitable cycle of partying and going out every night common to so many first forays into the gay world. As his "raucous behavior" reaches a peak, characters from Harry Potter start visiting John Michael begging him to save them from a magic-resistant strain of AIDS.

"Spoiler alert: Hagrid dies, it's a loss to the bear community," he teased. "I created a scenario where Harry Potter has a magic resistant strain of AIDS and needs my help. Giving Harry Potter AIDS seemed borderline inappropriate but this kind of shocking absurdity encourages an open dialogue. The title/photos are meant to grab attention and cause giggles."

Of the Harry Potter cast, Luna Lovegood makes the most appearances. The audience plays six characters in total and John Michael plays five, two of which are represented by puppets. John Michael describes the puppets as "adding a magical element to the show" -- both ridiculous and simple at the same time. He even utilizes one of said puppets for a sex scene. The show itself, he says, changes every night depending on the audience, who he interacts with throughout the 45-minute run.

Both John Michael and his "Penix" are high-energy and full of endless jokes, stories and puns, with John Michael unafraid to speak explicitly about hook-ups, one-night-stands and the trials and tribulations of Grindr.

He succeeds by tackling serious, relevant and important subject matter with wit and playfulness. Just as Dumbledore lessens the power of Lord Voldemort by calling him his rightful name, the impact of HIV/AIDS can only be affected by talking about the disease and confronting it head-on by getting tested and practicing safe sex, two important take-aways from John Michael's show.

"It attacks HIV/AIDS stigma, through a funny, moving coming of age story," John Michael said. "The play follows me at a time I believed I was immune to the consequences of recklessness. My magical thinking perpetuated itself in the dark with shame, stigma and fear...I am really proud of how the show is not heavy-handy and or is about the mistakes I have made, and I truly believe bad decisions make good stories."

"Penix" was first commissioned for John Michael's artist residency for a three-week run at Noveau 47 Theatre, a Dallas group focused on developing new work, premiering in March of 2013. That fall, John Michael did a two week run at the Margo Jones Theater in Dallas to prepare for his performances at the New Orleans Fringe Festival. Around the same time, John Michael also performed "Penix" for the Resource Center of FUSE, a Dallas gay youth group, which he calls fitting, as their testing (comparable to that provided by Howard Brown here in Chicago) plays a role in the show.

John Michael chose to share "Penix" as his first show since moving to Chicago to study comedy in April for many reasons, not the least of which is that "Penix" audiences all leave with faces red from laughing. The show is also personally meaningful to John Michael. The original was co-directed by Grace Keller Scotch and John Michael's own beloved mentor Matthew Tomlanovich, who passed away last year.

The show pays tribute to John Michael's mother, who he also lost last year. John Michael remembers his mother sitting front row back in 2013 for his first performance of "Penix," though he usually sat her in the back, and learned why when she interrupted him mid-show to ask how he felt about a scene where he cuddles with a boy he met on Grindr.

"I thanked her for birthing me and everything else she has done for me," John Michael said. "I proceeded to charge the audience members sitting next to her with the task of keeping my mother quiet so that I could finish the show. What was great about it was how the audience could tell how much my mother loves me. She has since passed and there's a scene in the play where I play her and it's my favorite scene because the audience gets to meet my favorite person in the world."

So if you're ready for a funny and moving coming of age story, love a good Harry Potter reference or even just a healthy round of puppet intercourse, John Michael and his "Penix" surely won't disappoint.

See "John Michael and the Order of the Penix" this Sunday, August 16, at 8:45 p.m. as part of the Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins festival, three days of entertainment celebrating the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival of 1969 housed at the Angel Island Theater, 735 W Sheridan Rd. Passes can be bought online for access to unlimited performances (with "come and go" privileges) during one day for $10, or over the entire weekend for $25. For more information, check out the festival's Facebook event.