NEW YORK, Feb. 26 -- When Art Metrano takes his final curtain call at his one-man stage show, 'The Amazing Metrano: An Accidental Comedy,' audiences invariably gives him a standing ovation as a tribute to the fact that he is standing at all. What is amazing about the Amazing Metrano, the nickname he used doing his stand-up, send-up comedy magic act on Johnny Carson's 'Tonight Show,' is that his show is the harrowing story of a crippling accident with injuries similar to those of actor Christopher Reeve. 'Like Christopher Reeve, I broke my neck in four places,' said the 58-year-old actor between shows at the off-Broadway Union Square Theater, recalling a 1989 fall froma ladder while renovating his Los Angeles home. 'And also like him I didn't break my spine or lose any spinal fluid, so his prognosis is good. From what I understand about his injury, he will walk again. 'The fact that I fell is a blessing in disguise because it gives me a chance to tell a story I never would have told. Because of Reeve's accident, more attention is being paid to spinal cord injuries.' Metrano has sent his book, 'Twice Blessed,' the script and a video of his show to Reeve and has received a call from Reeves' mother-in-law asking to meet him. The former Borscht Belt comic turned actor also is remembered for his portrayal of Lt. Mauser in a couple of early 'Police Academy' movies. Metrano's career was in a rut of what he calls 'junk TV' when the accident happened.
At first quadriplegic and unable to speak, he began the long slow process of rehabilitation that has enabled him to walk, talk, drive a car and perform a strenuous, demanding show. But the former football player who used to bench-press 300 pounds and play tennis and basketball regularly now can lift only about 10 pounds. 'The hardest part was coming to terms with having no strength,' he said. He attributes his successful recovery to a combination of meditation and advice he received from his high school football coach in Brooklyn. 'He taught me the meaning of stick-to-itiveness, that a winner never quits and a quitter never wins,' he said. 'He made me deal with life head-on and made me belive that I could be whatever I wanted to be. 'Sometimes life comes calling, punches you in the face and says, 'Let me see what you're made of, tough guy.'' Part of Metrano's makeup is a stubborn kind of determination that pushed him beyond the limited rehabilitation training he was receiving daily at the hospital. Instead, he asked his doctor for permission to work at it as often as he wanted to. 'It was exhilarating to me to try to rehabilitate myself by myself,' he said, adding that he used meditation throughout the process and still does between shows. Metrano also attributes an important part of his recovery to his wife, Becky, and their two children, whose devotion and encouragement rescued him from the suicide he was planning when he felt his situation was hopeless. After being released from the hospital and continuing his recovery at home, Metrano began working on various sections of what eventually became 'An Accidental Comedy.' Encouraged by friends and fellow comedy writers, he worked on the piece, then previewed it in various California venues before launching it in New York. 'Everybody told me that New York audiences would be the toughest, but I find them much more giving, more attentive, more boisterous,' he said. 'They are theatergoers more than anywhere else. They truly love the theater. They follow the text better and they get it.' Encouraged by affirming New York reviews which called his show 'therapeutic inspirational theater' and 'tremendously moving and deeply inspirational,' Metrano now is planning to take the show on a national tour and to London. 'On my wish list is to be part of a spinal cord telethon to raise money for research to find a cure,' he said.