Jeff Metcalf has a ready answer when asked how he came up with the title of his play A Slight Discomfort.
"It's that moment for all men in a physical when their doctor snaps on a rubber latex glove and says, 'I need you to bend over. You're going to feel just a slight discomfort,' '' Metcalf says, describing the routine when you get your prostate checked.
Metcalf's play is about prostate cancer, drawn from his own experience with the disease. "It's not the play I wanted to write, that's for damn sure,'' says the playwright, 60, an English professor at the University of Utah. When he was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, he started keeping a journal that provided raw material for his play.
"What I noticed in the journal was that there was light and laughter in places that there shouldn't have been,'' says Metcalf, who includes a talking penis among his characters. "Humor is important.''
A Slight Discomfort, which had its premiere in Salt Lake City in 2008, is a one-man play that features Paul Kiernan this weekend at the Studio@620 in St. Petersburg. It's part of a surprisingly rich body of drama on cancer, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit by Margaret Edson.
"I've found that people identify with my play on all levels,'' Metcalf says. "There are really only two degrees of separation. You either have cancer or you know somebody that does.''
Even though he had his prostate removed and has gone through radiation and other treatments, Metcalf still has cancer. He remains active as a skier, squash player and fly fishing enthusiast. "Cancer interrupts life; it's inconvenient,'' he says.
For men, prostate cancer is the second largest killer behind heart disease. Metcalf is pleased his play is being performed not only at theaters but also at hospitals and medical conferences.
"It has connected in ways I never expected it to. Men really start to talk about prostate cancer, which is a wonderful thing to see because we are so far behind women when it comes to talking about something like that.''
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.