By Mary O’KEEFE
“How we roll. Two friends, one wheelchair and a lifetime of lessons and perseverance.” That’s what Mike Berkson and Tim Wambach brought to the Glendale Community College stage on Monday – along with a solid sense of humor.
Berkson, 25, has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. When he was 12 years old, Wambach was hired to be his aide. Wambach helped Berkson throughout school and the two became good friends.
The two are from Chicago and now travel the country with their production of, “Handicap This!” From the beginning of the show, the two friends put the audience at ease with their use of humor. They explained what cerebral palsy is and how it has affected Berkson.
He cannot move his legs, and his arms are “like tree branches,” he described. There are several other symptoms common to cerebral palsy that confine him to his wheelchair, but his quick wit proved it does not confine his mind.
At times when Berkson struggles to speak, Wambach picks up the conversation to help. It is obvious they have been friends for a long time and, with that friendship, comes honesty.
“The first time I fed Mike …” Wambach began. He had taken Berkson to Taco Bell. Wambach proceeded to take yellow pieces of paper and began placing them all over Berkson, indicating where the taco had spilled.
Both friends laughed along with the audience as they joked about what could have been a difficult situation.
The stage show is intermingled with funny stories of how they cope with a variety of challenges, from finding a bathroom or a place to change prior to a show to going out with friends, and serious issues like endless surgeries and dating.
One story shared began with Wambach explaining a 13-hour surgery Berkson had gone through to put steel poles along his spine. He walked behind Berkson’s wheelchair and pulled out rods similar to what he now has implanted, along with an example of the metal screws they had used during the surgery.
Then it was Berkson’s turn. He did not speak about the pain of the operation, only that he had to lie flat on his stomach on a gurney. Knowing that he was to be in this position for several weeks, his first thought was … “Why not go to a movie?”
After asking a nurse and convincing his father, he was wheeled down Michigan Avenue in Chicago to a movie theater.
“They removed the seats in the back row,” he said.
And there he was, on his gurney watching a movie. All was well until “my pain medication started to wear off,” he said, and the audience laughed.
The audience laughed during the show, not out of nervousness but out of the comedic timing and honest talk from these two friends.
After the show, the two took questions from the audience. They were asked if they got angry at each other.
Berkson immediately said yes, sometimes, but he had to be careful about getting angry with the person he depends on. After all, he said, he is in the wheelchair.
“I can’t get mad and then say, ‘Hey, would you make me a tuna melt,’” he said.
GCC student and activist Jerry O’Brien brought “Handicap This!” to the campus.
O’Brien said he had known about the performance and thought it would be a great way to “break the barriers” and raise awareness of disability issues on campus.
He was able to procure event sponsors including the Hilton Hotel, Toyota of Glendale and Everything Medical. The tickets were free because, O’Brien said, he wanted people to feel like they could just come in and watch the show.
Berkson told the audience his dream is to be a writer and director. He is an avid movie fan and doesn’t feel anything will stop him.