On January 15, and again on the 16th, Ed Asner reprised A Man and His Prostate at the Metropolitan Room. The show is written by Ed Weinberger about his own run in with an uncooperative prostate while in Italy, but Asner (channeling Lou Grant) owns the prose. It is easy to forget, while enjoying Asner’s comedy, the dramatic spectrum of his work and the many ways in which he has contributed to the entertainment industry. In addition to his many awards for performance, he has won the Anne Frank Human Rights Award, the Eugene Debs Award, the Organized Labor Publications Humanitarian Award, the ACLU’s Workers Rights Committee Award and the National Emergency Civil Liberties Award. He has been the president of Screen Actors Guild and has appeared in above 100 television shows and on the stage.
Although his familiar curmudgeonly persona is certainly winning, his many humanitarian distinctions make more humorous his many explicit descriptions (accompanied with charts and graphs) of “his” prostate problems and treatment. While on a cruise to Italy, he was given four hours to take in Florence (while his wife elected to remain aboard ship). He was felled by his prostate while walking the streets and the ship sailed on with his wife no wiser. He was taken to a local hospital (looking like it was built by Tiberius, showing B&W reruns of Bay Watch on the lobby TV) to be treated by Dr. Marco Carini who spoke no English (while Asner spoke no Italian). They were soon on intimate terms as Carini pretty quickly had a diagnostic digit up our protagonist’s rectum. (Asner discloses that this remains the most effective diagnostic approach, now rarely used in the U.S. – and, later in the show, takes his personal physician to task for never having explored that territory.) Asner mimes his symptoms for the doctor (and the audience) showing how he must frequently urinate, in the process handling his virtual member something like a fire hose. (The audience laughs and Asner smiles his iconic impish grin.)
Asner’s character learned at the time that he had been hours from renal failure. He spent his hospital time in a room dominated by a picture of Christ on the cross “on his worst day,” head tilted to one side “as if to say ‘you think you’ve got it bad?’” Asner launches into a pedantic (but still funny) segment explaining that, as a man ages, his prostate grows larger – “just one of life’s little pranks.” He spoke of the pharmaceutical contributions to prostate control and of the perfection of his own colonic housekeeping. He described catheterization; “no gondola ride on the Grand Canal.” He shares the draining of his bladder, images of his gall stones, pictures of a triumvirate of Italian nurses preparing the surgical site (but recall this is Weinberger’s story).
In selling the surgical solution to the issue, Dr. Carini (who, it turns out, is one of the foremost urologists of Europe), assured our hero that he would have no side effects from surgery (except that his ejaculate would now travel “in reverse”). The patient’s efforts to test the absence of side effects underlies the most sustained comedic writing of the show. When recovering in a hotel (still awaiting the return of his wife from Venice) Asner’s character, in an attempt to reinvigorate himself, resorts to self-help and televised pornography. That having failed (amusingly), he attempts to purchase the short-term ministration of a flesh and blood woman – in a Catholic country, on Easter. He is frustrated. There is nonetheless a satisfying dénouement, at least for the audience.
Asner has the long experience that enables him to inhabit at least this role with no apparent effort, and his comedic persona is well known and anticipated. I do not know that another actor could deliver this show with the same success. Nonetheless the combination of performer and material make for a very engaging evening; after all, most of us know someone with a prostate. And any short-coming in words or performance (and precious few come to mind) would be negligible, for me, for the pleasure of seeing, in person, one of my heroes of the acting craft.
All photos by FredCohenPhotography; to see more of Fred Cohen’s Cabaret photography, click here.