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Venue: Goethe Institute- Mainstage
812 7th Street NW
They say: “What if someone walked into surgery and awoke paralyzed-never having been warned of this risk? What if someone not only survived but also endured the horrors of disability with hope and humor? What if that someone traveled, worked, entertained, returned to school, earned a masters degree, a law degree and got married? What if someone wrote a funny and revealing book about it? Someone did.”
Sophia’s take: If I’d known then what I know now… So goes the old saying, and maybe it’s overused. Yet the idea is one worth bearing in mind when structuring any type of narrative, no matter how humorous and admirable the story may be. The life story of Brian Shaughnessy (actor, writer, attorney, quadriplegic), as he tells it, is full of humor and faith, in spite of the fact that the fates have dealt him a marathon test of physical and emotional endurance. After becoming paralyzed at age 24 during a surgery gone wrong and losing his fiancee as a result, Shaughnessy did what I think many of us would – spiral into a deep depression and contemplate suicide. Instead of swallowing a bottle of Valium, he goes back to school and becomes an actor, playwright, world traveler, lawyer, husband and father. “I’m so blessed I should be twins,” he begins, and you believe him.
The only obstacle in the way of following Shaughnessy on his remarkable journey is one he puts there in the beginning of the show: He describes his idyllic Hawaiian wedding for the audience “so that you can get through what comes next.” By telling the members of his audience that all will be well in the end, before we really know anything about what happened to him, he denies us the possibility (to whatever extent we each are capable) of living vicariously through his words, and understanding what he went through. The thing about digging deep within one’s self to find faith and keep hope is that you have to do it without knowing what amazing people and experiences lay in store. Simply telling the tale as it actually unfolded may have been more impactful, in the end.
Shaughnessy is at the peak of his powers when speaking of how his family dealt with his paralysis, especially his father. The strong and reliable father, who cries out his grief and helplessness in a parking lot, alone, is a tragedy many families have seen play out in the face of any number of tests.
How Shaughnessy would prevent this set of circumstances from afflicting other families is a question he leaves unanswered in The Squeaky Wheel SQUEAKS! It’s hard to believe this writer and lawyer has no opinions on how the medical profession should improve its process of disclosing the risks of surgery, or of what steps our society could take to provide better services for the disabled. At 45 minutes, The Squeaky Wheel has time to spare for answers. I hope Shaughnessy will consider offering them — he certainly has the ears and the respect of his audience.
See it if: Personal narratives about the triumph of the human spirit will intrigue you.
Skip it if: You’re looking for solutions, in addition to experiences.