The Squeaky Wheel Squeaks!
Review by David J. Hoffman, July 11, 2010
Published at dctheaterscene.com
Which would YOU choose? A lifelong ride in an electric wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down? Or a one-way ticket to oblivion, – call that, to round off the metaphor, a seat in the electric chair where YOU can pull the switch?
The Squeaky Wheel Squeaks! is a solo performance about one man’s real-life answer to this haunting and existential question, Prince Hamlet’s same agonizing choice of “to be or not to be, that is the question.”
Brian Shaugnessy is a Hawaii-based author and playwright and boy does his squeaky wheelchair squeak and also spark – striking a thousand points of hopeful light both on stage, from the printed page, and in person afterwards over an impromptu late lunch as well.
Minnesota-born and 52 years old this year, he is also an actor and director, attorney and entrepreneur, widower and father, and quite possibly the funniest man on wheels.
His one-man show begins in stark light on the Goethe Institute Main Stage as he wheels on stage, turns and faces the audience and begins quietly: “”I am Brian Shaughnessy and I am the Squeaky Wheel.”
He pauses, for full dramatic effect, and then states plainly: “I am so blessed I should be twins. I can’t believe I’m saying this myself, but there it is!” Later, he adds, “if you want a happy ending, leave now.”
He calls his tale – of how he awoke in sheer terror from spinal surgery in 1983, suddenly without any warning beforehand a permanent quadriplegic – one of “cynical hope” and “reluctant optimism.” Purely judged as a theatrical performance, Brian’s song to us is indeed one of hope although it is optimism darkened with many days of despair followed by salvation from his death-seeking brought about by a triumph of will and grace and then lifted high on the wings of love with his marriage to Amy and their adoption of now 8-year-old Amadeus and finally caught again in a downdraft of depression when Amy’s death from cancer came in 2007.
His book, upon which the play is based, was written in a sunnier time, in 2005. Brian tells his story still with self-deprecating humor, now updated to the present, including a brief appearance by his adopted son – bright-eyed half Samoan-native Hawaiian Amadeus Yun Chi Shaugnessy – who suddenly bounds on stage, with “Squeaky Wheel” pencils for sale (another sly, self-deprecating touch) to proclaim with a hug “I love you, Papa.” The boy’s mom, a Hong-Kong-born Chinese oncology nurse who married Brian in Hawaii in 1999, taught him to use the British-styled “papa” in stead of “daddy.”
"After her death three years ago, Brian confesses “Amadeus and I have been crawling out of that hole ever since” affirming that “I’m made of stuff that kryptonite can’t touch” and “there’s a yin to that yang where you might rock but I roll.”
His friend Mark Medoff, Oscar nominee and Tony award winning-author of the play Children of a Lesser God puts it this way: “Fate has dealt (Brian) what might seem like an impossible life. His journey is harrowing, horrifying, and finally inspirational.”
By all means, see this show for its simple and un adorned first-person story-telling, a soliloquy from the soul. It is tearful and funny, minus any sentimental back-patting. I consider it a “must see”.
It continues at the Goethe Institute 6 PM Thursday July 15 and 5 PM Saturday July 17. Then he takes the show, with Amadeus and his traveling aide Sean – native Hawaiian chief cook (literally) and bottle-washer also, plus second-banana Marty, from Los Angeles – on the road to Fringe festivals in late July and August in Kansas City MO, his hometown of Minneapolis, and Boulder CO. Copies of his book are also available for $18.88 online.