The reluctance of men to talk — about just about anything — has long been the subject of stand-up routines, sitcoms and water-cooler chitchat.

Add to that the uncomfortable subject of cancer — prostate cancer for that matter — and conversation is sure to stop.

"A Slight Discomfort," opening Wednesday at Salt Lake Acting Company, delves into the subject headfirst.

"To get people talking about it was absolutely the grander goal," said playwright Jeff Metcalf, whose own personal journey through the discovery and treatment of prostate cancer is the subject of the play. "I think 11 or 12 people at my work immediately got their PSAs (a prostate screening test) checked, and three or four of them, as a result, found themselves thankful they went in."

The one-man play is a trip through Metcalf's journal entries, "when I finally came out of the prostate closet, I decided to talk about it and not hold anything back," said the energetic, youthful-sounding Metcalf over the phone. As an award-winning University of Utah English professor and writer, Metcalf has had his work appear in numerous local and national magazines. "I've been writing for 30 years, and on a really great article you might get two people who take the time to respond. But the response to the play has been stunning — it's really striking a chord with people."

"It really has been well received," said Paul Kiernan, the actor charged with the task of bringing Metcalf's words to life. "Survivors and wives of survivors are very appreciative. Men don't talk, and this is getting men to actually talk. Their reactions are quite amazing to me."

Kiernan, who confesses he's a bit intimidated by the one-man nature of the play, said, "I hope this serves him well. I want him to be pleased. I don't want to minimize this. It's such a great piece, it says so much."

So far, so good. The show has been performed, in its various stages, in Utah, Idaho, California, Italy and Spain. "We've invited members of the medical community to give feedback," said Metcalf, who details his experiences with many cold, callous hospital staffers. "One doctor, a urologist, just said, 'unbelievable, unbelievable. I think everybody in my office needs to see this — I never knew what men were going through in all my years."'

Today Metcalf continues treatment for his disease. "I feel really healthy, it's just that I've got this. Sometimes I have to stop myself and say, 'Oh, yeah, I've got this cancer thing inside of me."'

Metcalf is a good candidate for a test drug. "In the course of the next 52 weeks, they'll draw my blood 36 times. I hate needles, but I believe in research.

"Part of the play is an argument to men to have your health checked. You get your cholesterol checked, you can get your PSA checked at the same time," said Metcalf, who was surprised at his diagnosis since he has never felt any symptoms.

"I've got a great sense of humor about this. I have a very great, wonderful family that cuts me no slack, and I'm doing OK."

Kiernan agrees. "That's the great thing about this piece — it's not this death cant to cancer. It's open, honest, funny and hopeful. When the play is done, he's still there. Mr. Metcalf is alive, he's very much alive."

If you go:

What: A Slight Discomfort, Jeff Metcalf

Where: Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North

When: Wednesday through Oct. 19

How Much: $13

Phone: 801-363-7522

Web: www.saltlakeactingcompany.org

Additional: Metcalf will do a post-show discussion on Oct. 8.


E-mail: ehansen@desnews.com