Monday, March 6, 2017

The Artificial Drooler


Well okay, I guess you can say things have improved a little for cripples over the last 20 years or so.

Twenty years or so ago, I went to see this play where the main character was a guy in a wheelchair who had cerebral palsy. I don’t remember the title of the play. All I remember was that it was written and performed by a traveling theater company that does plays about “social issues.” Yikes! That should have been a big red flag. But I went to see the play anyway, despite being fully aware of the risk involved in doing so. I guess I figured, “How bad could it be?”

This was that theater company’s first foray into the “social issue” of crippledom. Needless to say, the role of the man with cerebral palsy who’s in a wheelchair was not played by a guy who really did have cerebral palsy or was in a wheelchair. To me it was obvious from the start that he wasn’t an authentic cripple by the way he spazzed it up like Jerry Lewis on coke. From my vantage point in the back row, I could even see drool glistening on his chin throughout the play.

The sad protagonist lived a life of brutal rejection. He was rejected by his family, by kids in school, by employers, by females. It got to the point where he sat on stage alone in his wheelchair delivering a spazzed-out tragic soliloquy about how much it sucks to be him. And then he put the barrel of a loaded gun in his mouth.

The audience gasped. And that’s when the action froze and the audience participation part began. (Yikes! A play about “social issues” that includes audience participation! Any play like that should be required to have a Surgeon General’s warning.) As the faux cripple sat motionless on stage with a gun in his mouth, one of the administrators of the theater company entered from the wings and asked the audience to determine the ending of the play. Should the cripple blow his brains out or not?

A spirited audience discussion ensued about the pros and cons of cripples blowing their brains out. No one mentioned the the fact any cripple that was as spazzed out as this one probably would have shot off his nose or something while attempting to put the gun in his mouth. In the end, the audience decided that the brave protagonist should resolve to keep on living in spite of it all. I can’t remember whether it was a voice vote or a show of hands.

So the action unfroze and the actor took the gun out of his mouth and delivered a final soliloquy about how he’s going to keep on living in spite of it all. The end. The audience applauded vigorously as the actors took their bows. Of course the star bowed last and before he did, he rose from his wheelchair, much to the audience’s surprise and delight. And then he unhooked something from his lower lip and held it high for all to see. Turns out the chin drool was fake. Yep, somebody in the props department actually made him a drool prosthesis.

Like I said, that was 20 years or so ago. I’ve seen a lot of horrifyingly grating stuff about cripples on stage and screen since then. But I’ve still not seen anything as excruciating as that.

So maybe things have improved a little.



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