Spelman takes pains to introduce the more graphic material gradually.

"I ease into it in a way that makes people feel safe," he says.

"I start out by talking about a familiar experience that most men have had, of getting hit in the testicles with a baseball when I was 9 years old."

He then reveals his family's word — "tellywacker" — for the male sex organ, and muses humorously about the term's linguistic origins.

"By that time," Spelman says, "I've sort of established that I have that equipment, everybody knows that I have that equipment, and we can face it together as adults."

Susan Gordon is a psychiatric social worker by profession and a storyteller by avocation who has seen two workshop performances of "The Prostate Dialogues."

"I was amazed and touched at Jon's bravery, honesty and his willingness to laugh while exploring a topic so sensitive that few men or women are comfortable discussing it," Gordon says. "I wanted to say to my women friends, 'Pull up a chair; listen to what happens to our men. Understand.' "

Given that kind of response, it's possible to imagine the playwright as a true "Spell Man." For more than three decades, the performer has been the go-to tale-teller in the Baltimore and Washington area.

Spelman's skill has been noted by the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. The latter praised him in a 1995 review as "a superb storyteller" with "presence, wit, timing and narrative creativity."

"Three Stories Tall," a children's television program that ran from 1985 to 1990 on the Washington NBC affiliate, received three local Emmy Awards.

His monologues have been commissioned by such venues as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution. He has performed on National Public Radio and with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Perhaps it's fair to point out that if Spelman is one of the premier professional storytellers in the area, he's one of only a very few who make their living from such a solitary craft. Storytelling is, if possible, even more on the fringe of mainstream society than modern dance — his wife's profession.

But from his earliest days, he has listened to people use words to give shape to their lives. His parents' favorite entertainment on fine Cincinnati evenings was chatting with friends on their veranda.

"I remember hiding under our front porch when I was 7 or 8 years old and listening to the adults talk," Spelman says.

When he was in high school and visiting a friend on vacation, the young people in the home became his first audience — unbeknownst to the budding performer.

"I have no recollection of this," he says, "But my friend told me recently that he and his brothers and sisters and cousins would gather every night outside my bedroom door and listen to the stories that I was telling myself out loud."

After earning a master's degree in theater from Purdue University, Spelman took a job in 1968 as an assistant theater professor at Florida State University in Sarasota. Five years later, he founded his own company, Florida Studio Theatre, which was dedicated to performing new and original work.

But by 1980, he'd had enough. He'd fallen in love with a dancer who lived in Washington. And he was tired of spending all his time raising money for his troupe instead of creating art, tired of pouring all his energy into creating a play that would exist for, at most, 50 performances before evaporating.

Spelman was driving through rural Virginia later that year to visit Lerman when his car broke down. While waiting for his vehicle to be repaired, Spelman took a walk down an alley — and stumbled upon an epiphany.

Perhaps four or five local people were sitting on stools in a circle around a man telling a story. They moved over and made room for Spelman to join them. When the first man finished his tale, someone else told a joke. After the laughter had subsided, a third person jumped in. Around and around the circle it went.