On the surface, this 75-minute solo show is Jon Spelman telling the true story of how he learned he had prostate cancer, evaluated his options, went through surgery, and recovered.
But it is so much more than that. It is also a beautifully crafted, skillfully shared performance piece that weaves personal experiences, medical information, physical movement, and quotes from everyone from Herman Melville to Mark Twain to Miss Alabama in such a way that the whole audience gets to grapple with immortality and death and live to tell about it, all while laughing.
At the Indiana History Center Saturday night, Spelman worked with a lavalier microphone, two chairs and a long table. Sign language interpreter Joyce Ettinger worked next to him on the stage but he otherwise used the whole space, lying on the table to make it into an MRI machine at the hospital, for example, or sitting in the chairs as if at the “Reluctant Brotherhood” support group.
He used explicit, wince-inducing language and laugh-producing gestures to convey the indignity of medical procedures. He shared key moments from his childhood and other times that helped him realize that a penis is not just an organ but a concept, and that it is part of a whole system that includes the prostate. It is psychological as well as reproductive.
His wife, Liz, and his daughter, Anna, were essential characters in his story and we grew to love them, too. He mentioned that they are both culturally Jewish and he is Atheist but there was nothing preachy or defensive about his storytelling. Even the message to “see a doctor early” was shared gently.
Spelman had made good, artistic choices ahead of time and then was completely present in the moment with us Saturday night as he told. The relatively short program meant there was a generous amount of time for Q&A at the end, which was also good.