This past Saturday, Kelsey Theater was lucky enough to have hosted a performance of “Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle,” a one-man-musical written and performed by the witty and talented Max Wojtanowicz ’06. Having graduated from St. Olaf ten years ago with a major in theater, Wojtanowicz returned to the Hill on a tour stop for his show telling the story of his battle with testicular cancer.
In January of this year, Wojtanowicz was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer – not even a year has passed since his orchiectomy (a surgery to remove his right testicle). But Wojtanowicz took this tragedy and turned it into an enjoyable, hysterical and noteworthy musical experience.
“Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle” consistently sold out at the Southern Theater during the Minnesota Fringe Festival this past summer – and for good reason. The script takes a creative, professional twist on a tragic time in a man’s life. From Wojtanowicz’s puppet testimony of his solitary ball to impressions of meeting a cancer patient, the script is full of surprises. The score is magically created, showcasing unique songs reminiscent of Sondheim.
Wojtanowicz, with his effervescent, exuberant personality, performed the show exquisitely. Impressively, he sang the entire hour-long show with little break. His vocals continually remained strong, hitting notes ranging from low to up in the stratosphere.
Wojtanowicz’s performance was so impressive that during the post-show talkback, an audience member asked him, “How do you sing and cry and still sound good?”
The length of the show was well balanced between laughs and tears. One moment, the audience would be chuckling as Wojtanowicz pole-danced with his IV pole. The next moment, they were sniffling as he spoke of loneliness, doubt and despair. His story took the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride.
This is a story everyone needs to hear because cancer is a story everyone has experienced in some way, shape or form. Wojtanowicz does not tell some fluffy Hallmark version. He does not smooth the edges or sugarcoat. He does not care if his words or his honesty make the audience uncomfortable or sad. He just tells his story.
The audience is jarringly reminded at times that this is a true story. Nothing is fabricated. He reveals his port – a scar from the chemo medicine – many times during the show. It is not makeup: it is a real scar. This is not an actor portraying a character: Max Wojtanowicz is a real person. He suffered through cancer and bears the scars. His hair grew back and his energy returned, but this performer is the same human who, only a few months ago, looked death in the face. Wojtanowicz stands exposed up on a stage set only with a piano, a chair and some IV stands.
His vulnerability entices the audience, many of whom are constantly told “nobody wants to hear your problems.” His honesty rings in a world that belittles mental health issues, disabilities, sickness, poverty, hate, loneliness and death. His story of hope reached an audience of college students – some of whom hear in Wojtanowicz’s story exactly what they need to hear.
“Thank you for reaching my heart and reminding me that I am here for a reason,” an audience member said during the talk back.
Wojtanowicz stated that his goal for the show was to make people “laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, cry, laugh again, and walk out singing,” but he accomplished more. The audience walked out of Kelsey Theater Saturday night, tears glistening on their cheeks. Some audience members recalled struggles with cancer. For other audience members, Wojtanowicz awakened hope. And some audience members just walked out of that theater singing the catchy tune “Fondle Your Balls.” But all audience members would agree, walking out, that Max Wojtanowicz’s “Ball: A Tribute to my Lost Testicle” was a masterpiece.