They've asked us all to be here.
The subject is profound.
I guess they thought we had the same disease.
Now, now, you're getting cranky,
But you really must admit
There are some striking sim-i-lar-i-ties
(Around the knees) . . .
-- From "What Have We Got in Common? Not a Lot," opening number of "Who Parks in Those Spaces?"
"Who Parks in Those Spaces?" is a musical comedy about the physically handicapped -- you know, a show with singing and dancing and original songs and a chorus-line beat.
That being said, it must then be said that it is good. Better than good; maybe even terrific. It's one of those rare magic half-hours on TV that fairly screams "Emmy." Watch it tonight at 8:30 on Channel 5.
"Who Parks in Those Spaces?" is funny, sad, ironic. And, as it turns out, although all the actors are physically disabled in one way or another, it really isn't about just the physically handicapped at all. It's about sensitivity and stereotyping. About self-confidence and love and anger. About what they call "passing." About learning to like one's self and finding other people like you for yourself as well.
Maybe if I used both hands
She'd fall in love with me.
If I could only walk around
They'd see all I can be.
Maybe if I wear my coat just so
She won't even know . . .
Nancy Becker, herself wheelchair-bound, provided music and lyrics for the three original songs that provide much of the show's humor and pathos. The music is sprightly, the lyrics professional. So is the acting, and why not, the ensemble being made up of professional actors?
Confides Mark Rosenblatt, at one point, "I was playing Polonius in 'Hamlet' once . . . Backstage after the show, I was standing against a wall and this woman comes over to me and says, 'Oh, I really loved your performance. Especially your choice of a limp for the character. It just made it so real.' I thanked her. And I limped away."
"When," asks one actor, "when did you see anybody disabled on a TV commercial? Ever see a disabled person brush their teeth . . . or fall in love over a breath mint?"
"My name is Jessica," breathes Victoria Ann-Lewis, "and I hate plastic ketchup dispensers. [Breath.] I love the Stones. [Breath, breath.] But when it comes to jeans, nothing [breath] comes between me and my Calvins . . . [pause] . . . [sensual stroking of legs] . . . except my braces . . ."
"Who Parks" is a sequel to "Tell Them I'm a Mermaid," written and produced by the same team -- Becker, director Tom Alderman and writers Ann Gibbs and Joel Kimmel. "Mermaid" won a raft of awards in 1983 and "Who Parks" seems likely to follow suit.
In it there is almost no place where the word "disabled" or "handicapped" or, yes, "gimp," couldn't as easily be replaced by "black" or "Jew" or "fat" or almost any other "group." The show succeeds brilliantly in giving us insights into the disabled.But even more, it succeeds as a metaphor for all the rest of us -- the shy ones, the lonely ones, everybody who "passes" because they think only they feel that way.