Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Rare Candor: Ed Asner Shares His Innermost, um, Feelings in 'A Man and His Prostate' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

A Man and His Prostate
a one-man show starring Ed Asner
written by Ed. Weinberger
presented by Piven Theatre Workshop
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston, IL
2-Performance Run Ended
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I could tell you that A Man and His Prostate is rather funny, informative and even potentially life-saving.

Yet while none of this is untrue, the reason I saw it—and theoretically why you may want to, though the current two-performance opportunity in Evanston has passed—is because it offered the chance to see an actor I’ve long enjoyed, Ed Asner, in a small theater for a reasonable price. 

Asner, who in playing Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, then on a drama bearing the character’s name, won more performance-based primetime Emmy Awards than anyone: 7.

And two months from turning 90 on November 15, he remains a unique and engaging performer.

It’s understandable why writer Ed. Weinberger—who wrote for the Mary Tyler Moore Show and created Taxi, The Cosby Show and more—penned a pained-but-humorous recollection of a personal true-life episode specifically for Asner to perform as those the medical circumstance had happened to him.

Essentially, Weinberger—as Asner enacts—was off-ship in Florence while on an Italian cruise when, having previously experienced some urinary distress, he collapsed right in front of one the world’s most famous works of art (and one noted for its exposed male genitalia).

This leads to being taken to an Italian hospital, having tests run, getting in touch with his primary care physician and re-connecting with his wife, who had stayed aboard the ship.

I’ll refrain from revealing any more details about the medical condition, test, findings, treatment, etc., but beware that the famously irascible Asner is entirely graphic—including utilizing on-screen graphics—in speaking about masculine body parts.

For those who aren’t too squeamish, A Man and His Prostate is enjoyable in its frankness.

And as a life-lesson, let’s just say that the basic prostate check of having one’s doctor still a finger up your rear end shouldn’t be avoided—as seemingly it was for Weinberger—due to embarrassment, momentary discomfort, etc.

So this wasn’t a bad use of 80 minutes at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, particularly as I can now say I’ve seen Ed Asner onstage, as I previously had—among many others—his late MTM co-stars Valerie Harper and Georgia Engel, as well as noted TV performers such as John Mahoney, Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, Bebe Neuwirth, Marilu Henner, Jason Alexander, Richard Kind, Linda Lavin, Linda Evans, Joan Collins, Holland Taylor, Alan Thicke, David Soul, Christina Applegate, Carol Kane, Michael McKean, Stacy Keach, John Lithgow, William Petersen and more.

Unlike most of the theater I attend and review, this wasn’t based on a press invite. I bought my own ticket, for $40, which seemed reasonable to sit 5 rows from an actor I’ve long admired.

Though this is a show Asner has been touring for a couple years, in Evanston it was presented by the Piven Theatre Workshop, which has long been housed in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

As something of a nifty twist, the Piven was founded by Joyce and Byrne Piven, the latter now deceased. They are the parents of Jeremy Piven, whom they trained along with John and Joan Cusack and many others.

But back in the 1950s, the Pivens were two of the founding members of the Playwrights Theatre Club, along with Paul Sills and David Shepard. Also part of Playwrights were such budding stars as Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Barbara Harris and, yes, Ed Asner. (They later formed the Compass Players, a forerunner to The Second City.)

If Joyce Piven was present on Sunday afternoon, I didn’t notice or recognize her, and from the stage Asner made no ad hoc comments about her, Chicago, the recently passed Valerie Harper, Mary Tyler Moore, his time on television or anything else.

He stuck to the script, of A Man and His Prostate, which he actually read (rather than recited from memory).

Again, I was there to see Ed Asner, and I did.

And I don’t mean to imply that it wasn’t a performance or enjoyable for what it was. There are reasons to attend theater beyond acute artistic greatness; such was the case here.

But as a one-man performance, this was OK, not fantastic.

And even the gist of Weinberger’s script—beyond the smart suggestion to get prostate exams with some regularity—didn’t seem all that consequential.

So really, just in the realm of wanting to see Ed Asner, there could’ve been far preferable things to hear him talk about.

As it was, I’ve now seen Ed Asner.

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