Respect and reverence greet Ed Asner as he shuffles through the audience to an awaiting folding chair onstage; a microphone stand poised to hold his well worn cane soon to return for a supporting role in his show. The audience of the radiant Metropolitan room does not relent on their greeting; they know they’re in the presence of a legend. I hear the voice of Carl Fredericksen, the acerbic old shut-in from Up, just as clear in the house as on the movie screen.
Ed Asner is casual. He’s dressed in a red Hawaiian shirt and blue shorts. He apologizes, he meant to wear a suit but since it takes him half an hour to get dressed, he decides to wear what he wore the day he was brought to a hospital in Florence, his health more at risk than he knew at the time. Ed takes in the audience; he turns the pages of his script casually placed upon a music stand in a simple black binder.
We are witness to a journey. Ed’s voice is strong. We hear every word. I wish I had half his voice if I am ever fortunate enough to reach my late 80s. His voice does not stay soft, he launches into frustrated tirades with his manager, he muses on death with a haunting lilt. He pays homage to many stars who lost the battle with prostate cancer. I feel a moment seep through the audience; I’m sure amongst the tinkle of glasses nearly everyone is thinking of friends and family with similar brushes with cancer.
This is not a heavy and raw exploration of fear, quite the opposite. He’s quick with a joke, he sees the absurdity in his situation. Anything having to do with “the nether regions of a man” can’t escape a grin. Ed has a projection of the prostrate prepared. He points out the various organs with his cane with all the finesse of a retired, yet seasoned, teacher. “Ya with me?” he asks rhetorically. A woman in the audience slurs a response and Ed is locked on; with a point of his thumb to the dark red curtain leading to the lobby he says, “Throw ‘er out”.
We see another projection with over 30 different kinds of prescription and over the counter medications one belonging to “Doctor Bob” and as luck would have it, Dr. Bob is in the audience. “You takin’ notes, Doctor Bob?” a grinning Asner quips; he waits for the doctor to make a move but wisely doesn’t. Asner has found his groove. A few “ahas” and “mmhmms” suffice to let us know Ed is ever aware of our reactions. He is almost inviting the audience onstage with him but keeps flawless command of the floor from his chair. We’re witnesses as much as ready prey for his wit.
It’s all in good fun, and for the next hour we are treated to an unflinching, sweet, and personal examination of a man’s experience with pain, relief, prayer, bottles and bottles of water (going in and coming out), and a touching reunion with his wife after his surgery and retrieval of manhood. There are a few slow moments, some details go a little long and but no one minds. Ed is far from finished and we are all glad to spend our time with what feels like an old, familiar friend.