Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room by Kathy Towson

This review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room was written by Kathy Towson and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Man & His Prostate
Performed by Ed Asner
Written by Ed. Weinberger
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 1/16/16  

He enters the room accompanied by his cane and dressed in cruise-wear (i.e. Hawaiian shirt & shorts), climbs onto the stage, sits down, does not utter a word and looks around the room in brilliantly funny, audience criticizing stares. One knows exactly his less-than-favorable opinion of what he sees, in recognizable, curmudgeon Ed Asner fashion. The audience is immediately pulled into the old nostalgic recognition of his previous characters and spontaneously erupts into laughter. This sets up the permission for us to laugh at what is to be a rather serious journey into an uncomfortable subject, especially for this female viewer - a man's prostate.

My opinion and appreciation of this show is colored by the fact that I have had all too much experience, and my own challenging encounters with the American medical profession, in the course of my elder-care, and therefore identified with this man's frustrations and fears as he faced this illness, far away from home. It may also explain why some of the stories told, while eliciting laughter from the majority of the audience, left me feeling seriously moved.

The show served its purpose of shining a light on a subject of men's health, often overlooked in favor of the focus on female health problems, due, I'm guessing, to the stoic nature men still feel they must uphold or the discomfort they feel regarding the subject of men's "private parts" in general. Therefore, writing-wise, this candid conversation was a breath of fresh air and I give the playwright, Ed. Weinberger, props for the courage to bring this to the stage with poignancy and humor, always good tools to get a lasting message across versus hitting the audience over the head with dictates that makes one want to run for the door. 

Ed Asner was perfectly chosen for this part. He is such a gifted storyteller and paints such clear images of all of the events that I found the slide show totally unnecessary and even distracting. They continued to jarringly yank me out of the world Asner pulled us into. Also, directorially, one has to be practical and consider the physical environment of the room - many audience members were positioned in such a way that they couldn't see the slides and even Ed Asner himself had trouble improvising the script to cover the fact that one of the slides was never even shown. Asner's presentation and our imaginations are much more interesting than seeing actual pictures.

I would also recommend that the usage of the "Baboom, Baboom" dialogue be cut to one instance. It was not clear if this was actually part of the script or if the actor kept using it as a filler when he lost his place in the text. (After the first few minutes, I barely noticed he was reading from the script, so engaging was his storytelling.)

Additionally, the in-depth explanation of every function of the prostate and bladder and catheterization process became too graphic when accompanied by the slides - it lost its theatricality and became like an uncomfortable High School Health Class shown drawings of male and female anatomy. Other humor that fell short and was borderline insulting was when he took the pointer and said, "for those of you unable to recognize the penis" - a line not up to the high standard of the rest of the script.

The playwright has such a gift with analogies and imagery, such as describing the bladder stones as "fireflies in a glass jar" or that they are like "the rocks on the bottom of a fish tank." I applaud the very clever way he described the operation as being "no gondola ride" and how the language barrier made him have to talk with his hands like 'Marcel Marceau'. The playwright need not stoop to questionable black humor such as "sirens sounding like they were coming for Anne Frank." Another historical tragedy was much better handled in referencing Jesus on the Crucifix hanging on the wall of his hospital room, "on the worst day of his life", conveying the unspoken message to the patient of "and you think you have problems." Another serious moment in the piece was coupled with the problems of modern technology resulting in the then very funny line, "...the phone was dying and so was I."

The educational aspects of this show had merit such as the listing of the side effects of Flomax and presenting information regarding the in-depth tests and examinations that were so expertly performed by the doctor in Florence (necessary for early detection) vs. the life-threatening practices of the American doctor, who never performed said tests and examinations. And this to me was where the true importance and message of this show came across making it a piece of  theatre everyone should see. It was also very powerful to hear the list of very famous people in our history who died of prostate cancer, and that there are 35,000 cases of it annually - one every 16 minutes.

Ed Asner ends a very impressive 90-minute performance (a feat for any actor of any age, let alone such a veteran) with a heart touching depiction of a man's most vulnerable time with his wife, making us cheer him on (while also making us realize how we might face the health challenges of our own family members), all culminating with the audience erupting in near unanimous applause at the final positive outcome.

I left the performance with admiration for the playwright and actor, sharing their artistic gifts, in such a harmonious and heart-warming fashion. It left me pondering this very serious subject with new enlightenment and, with the hope this piece reaches and informs the American medical profession, who could take a lesson from its message. I expect A Man & His Prostate will touch many audiences and armed with new knowledge, I hope there will be a dialogue among people in general that will result in possibly saving many future lives. Whenever theatre can serve such a powerful purpose, one can only say "Bravo."

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