Saturday, June 23, 2018

"Ball: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle" by The Catalysts at the Southern Theater

My favorite show from the 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival is back! In fact, it never really went away. #TCTheater artist Max Wojtanowicz has been touring his original auto-biographical solo musical "Ball: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle" around the state for the last two years. Shortly after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in January of 2016, his friend/collaborator/director Nikki Swoboda suggested he might want to write a musical about it. Unthinkable, yes, but that's what artists do, they process what's going on in the world and in their lives through their art, creating something that's both personal and universal. So that's what Max did. He journaled through the process of surgeries, chemotherapy, and recovery, and even invited Nikki and several composers into the chemo suite to start working on songs. He finished treatment in April (and is now in remission), and performed his show at Fringe that August. At the time it was so new and raw, a really emotional moving experience. Now with a few years of distance, it may not be quite as fresh, but it's just as moving. If you're in the Twin Cities, you can see it at the Southern Theater this weekend only before it continues its tour to places like the Mayo Clinic and the United Solo Theatre Festival in NYC.

photo by Dan Norman
In just about an hour, Max shares his cancer experience with us through songs and stories, in a very personable and real way. He refers to the script on a music stand because, as he explained in the talkback, he doesn't want to be overcome with emotion and forget where he is. The show feels very conversational, very informal, very natural, but also very polished in construction and delivery. Max shares funny and insightful stories about the diagnosis, treatment, side effects, and the way it all affected his relationships with friends, colleagues, and boyfriend (now fiance!). In a particularly poignant moment, he compares his experience with cancer (a relatively treatable kind with a high rate of survival) to his father's experience with terminal cancer, a difficult fight that ended nine years ago. You don't have to have experience with cancer to be moved by and relate to the theme of the uncertainty and fragility of life. "Crazy business this, this life we live in. Can't complain about the time we're given." Max sings these lyrics from Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle a few times in the show, with more meaning each time.

Max worked with three composers (Jason Hansen, Michael Gruber, and Andrew Cooke) on the songs, which are really fun, catchy, clever, and memorable. And of course, a one-person show is never really that. In addition to this creative collaboration, Max is accompanied onstage by Jerry Rubino on keyboard, providing an almost constant musical score in what's more like a conversation. They perform on a mostly bare stage under the beautiful historic arch at the Southern, with just a stool, music stand, IV poles, and a few props (including a super fun puppet and many, many hats).

photo by Dan Norman
I'll leave you with what I wrote about the show at the Fringe, which is still true. "Max Wojtanowicz gives the best performance of the fringe. Even though it may not technically be acting since he's essentially playing himself and telling his own story, it's one hell of a performance. Firstly, he's as funny and charming and beautiful of voice as always. But even more than that, he shares his heart and soul with the audience in a beautifully and painfully real way, entertaining and connecting at the same time, which is the essence of art... When you can take a painful and difficult experience and turn it into something that's entertaining, engaging, and moving, that's a true gift."

You can see Ball at the Southern today (2 pm and 7:30 pm) or tomorrow at 2. Click here for more info and tickets. And you can see Max and Nikki's latest new original musical as part of Theater Latte Da's new works festival, NEXT, in July (more info here).