Playwright: Brian Lobel
At: Bailiwick Repertory
Phone: 773-883-1090; $25
Runs through: Aug. 27
By Jonathan Abarbanel
I've known four men who've survived the physical and emotional trials of testicular cancer. I don't know if testicular cancer hits young men more than older men, but all four had it in their twenties. It seems to attack those with little life experience at a time when their senses of self and their confidence as sexual beings usually are incomplete and fragile. Would you like to be 20 years old, still a virgin, and face the possibility of never again being able to ejaculate or, perhaps, not even achieve an erection? Of being known as 'one-ball so-and-so?' Hey, meet Brian 'One Ball' Lobel.
Solo writer/performer Lobel identifies as gay, so his new piece, Ball, is being presented as part of the 2006 Pride Series, but there's nothing especially gay—in all its meanings—about his story or themes. As he aptly says, 'This is not the material I wanted for my autobiography. ... I wanted to wait until I'd lived a whole life before I had enough material for my one-man show.' Lobel has been cancer-free for four years now—with each year being a benchmark—but he'll never again look at a pimple or bruise without wondering if it signifies something more sinister.
You can't blame him. In his eight months as a cancer patient, not everything went wrong that COULD go wrong, but there were complications. Removal of a testicle wasn't enough; his cancer had spread to his lymph system, requiring radical surgery and the siphoning of six liters of lymph fluid from his abdominal cavity. That's a helluva lot of fluid, as Lobel graphically demonstrates with visual aids.
It's a wonder that, four years later, Lobel can discuss his intimate affair with America's healthcare system with humor and pungency, but that's what he does in this effective one-hour show. He even shows his surgical scar, a long but fine line down his abdomen that belies the ordeal it represents. Most of all, Ball represents Lobel's reaffirmation of life after a harrowing experience.
Something of an odd duck in appearance, as he himself admits, Lobel isn't Chicago's most accomplished actor. But he's accomplished enough to tell his own story with honesty, with an engaging smile and the confidence to share intimacies and embarrassments with us. Director Margot Bordelon effectively paces him from beat to beat. A few slide projections are tossed in, but not enough to be an effective element. As this new piece develops, they might find some additional visuals.
For women, it's breast, ovarian or uterine cancer. For men, it's testicular or prostate cancer. Ball is Brian Lobel's personal story, but it's also a cautionary tale for all. Guys, you're gonna squirm.