Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Third Date

THE THIRD DATE actor Gary Weinberg

When you hear that there is going to be a whole show about prostate cancer, it may give you pause. Surely not the way you want to spend an hour and a half of your life.

However, “The Third Date” by Robert Lautz is not a depressing show about a disturbing subject. Along with the inevitable poignant moments and a lot of information about prostate cancer there are also a lot of laughs because, let’s face it, cancer can be funny. Really! It’s what gets us through the really rough times. This is a witty, revealing and enjoyable play. Trust me.

This one-man show, directed by Maggie Adair Upton, is part of two new plays being presented at the Wilkerson Theater as part of California Stage Theater Company’s “Sac Solo Series 4.” (The other is “Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed,” written and starring Richard Winters.)

This the second play by playwright Lautz, a former Davis resident whose “The Meaning of it All” premiered at the Wilkerson Theater three years ago. At that time I said that it was a promising start and that I hoped it would not be another five years before we see more from Lautz.

Lautz took that as encouragement. Using his own experiences as a cancer patient, and working with dramaturge Lauren Sullivan, he has improved upon his freshman entry and is solidly in his sophomore year as a playwright.

Gary Weinberg plays Richard Montauk, a successful advertising man whose life is thrown into turmoil when he is diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. He’s kind of an unlikable male chauvinist pig whose wife has divorced him, but who, at the start of the play, is at the beginning of a possible new relationship and is uncomfortable, not quite knowing what could happen.

He then takes us back through his diagnosis, his endless treatments, his medications, his fights with the insurance company, the frustration with doctors. It’s a no-holds-barred journey which includes the dreaded digital prostate exam, the colonoscopy and endless humiliating procedures (as a woman who has gone through several pregnancies, I took fiendish glee seeing a man put in those compromising positions that we know all too well!)

There is no pussy footing around with terminology either. He calls a penis a penis. Many times. In fact, at one point he reads a whole bunch of colloquial euphemisms for that appendage, similar to the list for “vagina” in “The Vagina Monologues.”

There is helpful information to be had too, like the fact that chemotherapy kills testosterone and that if a man ever hopes to function sexually again, he must take Viagra every night, not for sexual performance, but to ensure that he will continue to have nocturnal erections which will keep his musculature in shape.

Women will also identify with his reactions to hot flashes, another side effect of the chemotherapy.
At the end of his treatment, he is broken, physically and emotionally and ready to re-examine his life and decide how to reshape it in order to become a better person.

Weinberg gives a marvelous performance in a 90-plus-minute piece that is loaded not only with the day-to-day thoughts of a cancer patient, but also a lot of technical information and jargon. Director Upton has cleverly used the device of Montauk referring to his journal to read the audience bits that he has written during his journey … it is obvious that it gives actor Weinberg a chance to remember where in his delivery he is, but it works and is a forgivable crutch, given the amount of material he is dealing with.

Weinberg was also dealing with a sweltering theater at the premier performance. Though the air conditioning worked at the start of the play, by the end of it, everyone in the audience was fanning themselves and Weinberg had sweat pouring off his face.

I sometimes think that the California Stage organization and its three theaters are some of the best theater in Sacramento that nobody has heard of. The small Wilkerson Theater had fewer than 25 people in the audience for its opening performance, which is a shame, as this is a good play with an important message and should have a wider audience.

One additional note: The play is dedicated to Cathy Manzano, a “Birch Lane Mom” who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2009.

“The Third Date” runs Saturdays only (matinee and evening performances) through July 4.

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