Hoopla

Ed Asner's show brings lightness to dark side of prostate cancer

Becky Bauer

Acting icon Ed Asner is bringing his solo show, “A Man and His Prostate,” to Riverside Theatre in Iowa City for two shows and a meet-and-greet this weekend. He’ll also be coming to Theatre Cedar Rapids on Sept. 26 and to the Temple Theater in Des Moines on Sept. 27.
Becky Bauer Acting icon Ed Asner is bringing his solo show, “A Man and His Prostate,” to Riverside Theatre in Iowa City for two shows and a meet-and-greet this weekend. He’ll also be coming to Theatre Cedar Rapids on Sept. 26 and to the Temple Theater in Des Moines on Sept. 27.
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Acting icon Ed Asner is bringing a serious subject wrapped in laughter to Eastern Iowa stages, beginning with a weekend stint at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City.

Tickets are scarce for Saturday night (5/19) but a few remain for a Sunday matinee (5/20) of “A Man and His Prostate.”

It’s a solo show written by Emmy-winner Ed. Weinberger, one of the core members of MTM Enterprises, which produced “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and introduced viewers to Asner’s signature character, the gruff Lou Grant. It’s the role Asner holds near and dear to his heart.

“He allowed me to be grouchy,” Asner, 88, said of Grant, which spun from Moore’s Emmy-winning sitcom into an Emmy-winning drama from 1977 to 1982. “I established my first grouchiness with him,” said Asner, who titled his autobiography “The Grouchy Historian.”

“He allowed me to be a lover of booze and a lover of sports, and he maintained my Midwestern values. The Detroit Free Press was probably one of his favorite papers. He was old-school journalistically I think, and employed it well.”

Because of the veteran actor’s association with Weinberger, “A Man and His Prostate” landed in Asner’s hands.

“He came to me with this project, and I read it and I laughed my (expletive) off, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Asner said by phone from his home in Tarzana, Calif. He’s been taking the play on the road for about two years, and in addition to the upcoming Iowa City performances, he also will be bringing it to Theatre Cedar Rapids on Sept. 26 and the Temple Theater in Des Moines on Sept. 27.

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It has a casual format, with Asner sitting in a chair in front of a projection screen, reading from a script. That style allows him a lot of latitude for breaking the theatrical “fourth wall” separating actor and audience.

“You’re talking to each other, as a character, as a one-man show. You’re going back and forth, and I try to establish a strong contact with the audience,” he said, “and it works. (Weinberger) wrote a beautiful piece — anybody could do it, and I’m fortunate enough to have it.”

The topic is deep and the message is serious, but the script is filled with laughs.

“That’s what I like about it,” he said. “It is primarily a comedy, and you work to make the laughs. But planted solidly in the middle of it is a serious note, which talks about prostate cancer and the enormity of it in terms of American men. That reminds the people what they’re looking at. So it delivers a message and then goes on to get more laughs.”

That’s music to his ears, which is just part of his reward in accepting the role.

“I’m doing a public service, and the laughter is enough payback — the fact that people are given a heads-up, and they listen to the message and will react accordingly.”

That message didn’t fly with everyone, initially.

“The interesting thing we found when we first started with the project, was that the major prostate people didn’t want to step forward and claim us and sustain us. They avoided us, and it’s one of the best drumbeaters you can find,” he said of the play.

He’s buoyed by the warm reception he’s received on the road, saying audiences were “wonderful” during his recent six-day tour to Canada.

His entire Hoopla interview was seriously funny, peppered with his dry humor. When asked what keeps him on the road in his late 80s, he replied: “The intent to pay off my debts. I’ll say ‘the attempt,’ because I haven’t done that yet.”

His other recent star turns include playing Santa Claus in the film “Elf,” as well as lending his voice to Pixar’s animated hit, “Up.” He also had a recurring role during the 2014-15 season of the acclaimed television drama “The Good Wife.”

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The Kansas City native’s storied career began with the Playwrights Theatre Club in Chicago, where he lived in the theater, alongside the other actors. “I had my own cubicle, and I learned how to act,” he said.

He hadn’t intended on taking that path. His family lived above his father’s junkyard in Kansas City, Kan., before moving across the river to a less diverse neighborhood, where the young Asner decided to join every school activity he could. “Getting along was my main thrust,” he said.

He played football and appeared in one play, but discovered his love of acting doing a radio show for two years. Coupled with being an editor in high school, he was leaning toward a career in journalism, until his teacher told him he wouldn’t be able to make a living that way.

“So, I went on to become an overnight sensation as an actor,” Asner said wryly.

He attended the University of Chicago, and returned to the Windy City following his military service in the early 1950s. After five or six years in Chicago, he moved to New York City, where he landed roles on and off-Broadway. He dipped his toes in television with guest shots on “The Outer Limits,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Route 66” and others in the 1960s, before landing his breakout Lou Grant role on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1970. Other highlights include his Emmy-winning turns on the mini-series “Roots” and “Rich Man, Poor Man.”

His many awards include seven Emmys from 17 nominations, as well as five Golden Globes, a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award — he served as president from 1981 to 1985 — and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Television.

He credits his Midwestern roots with helping him along the way, giving him “a lust for posing, for escape, for taking on other characters. It gave me a working man’s build and there’s always a spot for the build for a working man in theater. So many are slender wisps — it’s good to present the working man.”

GET OUT!

WHAT: Ed Asner in “A Man and His Prostate”

WHERE: Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (5/19, limited availability) and 2 p.m. Sunday (5/20); meet-and-greet following Saturday’s show, at High Ground Cafe, 301 E. Market St., open to ticket holders for either performance

TICKETS: $40 show-only, $50 show and meet-and-greet, Riverside Box Office, (319) 338-7672 or Riversidetheatre.org

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CEDAR RAPIDS: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26, Theatre Cedar Rapids auditorium, 102 Third St. SE; tickets on sale in late June, with limited number of VIP tickets available for a meet-and-greet reception with Ed Asner, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org

DES MOINES: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, Temple Theater, 1011 Locust St.; $55 to $65, on sale 9 a.m. June 4, at DMPA.org, the Des Moines Civic Center Ticket Office or (515) 246-2300

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