Play provides emotional outlet for author battling her own disability

By P.J. Standlee

In her upcoming role in Actual Lives: Sex, Death, & Wheelchairs, Kyrene Corridor resident Bonnie Guzelf will perform a self-written epilogue based on coming to terms with contracting a disabling illness.

With a touch of sadness, bitterness, humor and hope, Guzelf writes how her life, in what seems to pass in a blink of an eye, has been turned upside down after finding out that the extreme fatigue she felt was caused by a variant of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Today is my 50th birthday. How did this happen? Because I swear to you—I swear to you—yesterday I was 28,” she tells her audience at a small rehearsal.

“I remember it distinctly. I was single, living in Daytona Beach, Fla. I had a great job with a good company, and I just bought my own house and a new fancy sports car. Not quite Sex in the City, but I was young and having fun.”

The story will unfold fully later this month in a heartfelt performance by a group of actors and actresses who just happen to have disabilities.

Actual Lives: Sex, Death & Wheelchairs is the combined story of a theatrical troupe whose members bill themselves as the Improbable Theatre Company.

As to Guzelf’s experience, she says the disease changed the way she lived her life. She was forced to quit her job with TRW, and she and her husband Phil could no longer take the long vacations overseas that they enjoyed.

But the hardest change, she says, was losing the mobility she once had.

“I really resisted getting into a wheelchair,” she said.

Finding the actors’ group, said Guzelf, was a stroke of luck, helping her discover a new community of friends who knew what she was going through.

“Some of these people have been disabled for their entire lives, but they don’t let it get them down. They just go out and do it,” Guzelf said.

Acting in a wheelchair, she says, is different than her previous roles because of the limited range of movement; yet, what they lack in agility, she said, members of the troupe make up in determination and the ability to capture in facial expressions, tone and inflection.

“I think this is something that everyone can relate to. I think everybody knows someone with a disability.

“But on the other hand it’s about people, and it just so happens these people have disabilities,” said Guzelf about the play.

After receiving a grant form the Phoenix Art Commission and the Arizona Commission on the Arts to hire Director Anthony Arunfola and Playwright Wendy Myers in March, the troupe has been working diligently for three days a week and two to three hours a day rehearsing for the 45-minute play.

“I think everyone enjoys it,” Guzelf said. “For some, it’s a little harder to learn the lines, but everyone gives 110 percent on this. There are no egos…we do it all together.”

The title, Sex, Death and Wheelchairs, is based on the taboo subjects that society seems unable to broach, Guzelf added.

Along with monologues and poetry readings, the play also will feature a “wheelchair ballet” set to the music of Swan Lake.

By incorporating their own experiences into the play, the troupe hopes people with disabilities will become less invisible and more human in the eyes of the non-handicapped public.

The premiere of Sex, Death & Wheelchairs will be held at Herberger Theater Center, 223 Monroe St., at 7 p.m. Monday, June 28. Tickets cost $3.

Later performances will be during the lunchtime theater at Herberger Theater Center on June 29 and 30 and July 1, 6, 7 and 8, starting at 12: 10 p.m. Doors open at 11:40 a.m., and tickets are $5. Bring your own lunch or pre-order a box lunch for $5.

Call (602) 696-6590 for reservations. For more information call (602) 254-7399, extension 106.