After actor-comedian Art Metrano (Lt. Mauser in “Police Academy 2 & 3”) makes his entrance, he immediately launches into rapid-fire comedy shtick. “How you all doing. Anyone here from Brooklyn?” It is tried-and-true standup fare, except Metrano isn’t standing up. As he jovially reminisces about growing up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood (“Ours was the only church where the blood of Christ was referred to as evidence”), Metrano is whizzing about the stage in a motorized wheelchair. Over the next 90 minutes, Metrano guides the audience into the personal nightmare of breaking his neck and becoming totally paralyzed after an accidental fall off a ladder in 1989. The chronicle of his painfully slow recovery is tempered with constant comedic flashbacks about his family, career and marriage, eventually leading to his profound re-invention of himself as a man and an adult.
Metrano has a capable ally in Joe Bologna, who last year helmed the successful theatrical outing of another well-known comedian, Sammy Shore (“King Levine”). As with Shore, Bologna adroitly provides Metrano ample opportunity to display his comedic wares without undermining the emotion-jarring through-line of his miraculous journey from the brink of death. Complementing Bologna’s efforts are the simple, mood-enhancing production designs of Tom Buderwitz (set), Kathi O’Donohue (lights) and Michael Klinger (sound).
It is ironic that one of the major comedic highlights of the show occurs when Metrano is describing the frightening moments after he plunged head-first from a ladder while making repairs to a house he was planning to sell. Prostrate, he became horrifically aware that he was lying totally immobile in his own back yard with no one around to help him. In the midst of describing the gut-wrenching fear he was experiencing, he suddenly chastises himself, “You dumb shmuck, you can’t even call a lawyer because you fell on your own property.”
This yin-yang narrative of Metrano’s eventual hard-won ability to actually walk again (with the help of crutches) works best when the comedic and dramatic elements are evenly balanced. His delving into the past offers rich, often hilarious insights into the life of a poor kid who became a high school all-American football player (his heavily muscled neck probably saved his life), worked happily as a hairdresser while studying acting with Stella Adler and enjoyed success as a standup comedian and as a film actor (“All American Boy,” “They Shoot Horses Don’t They,” “Choirboys,” etc.)
Least well-balanced part of the night is Metrano’s dwelling on the emotional and physical abuse he suffered from his father while growing up. It’s hard to play comedy around such stuff, and Metrano has not yet emotionally distanced himself enough from these memories to utilize humor as a salve.