“I was born cross-eyed, pigeon toed, and Jewish. The son of Elvis Presley’s proctologist.”
Thus begins Steve Wruble’s “Escape From Daddyland,” a one-man show now ensconced at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Dr. Wruble is a psychiatrist with — how to put this? — daddy issues, as well as a practice in Ridgewood. He relives those issues with some humor, a lot of music, and a CD available for sale in the lobby.
Dr. Wruble grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in Memphis, where his father was only the fourth proctologist to open a practice. Dad ultimately became quite famous in tushy circles and proctologist to the king, himself.
In a Zoom interview, Steve says his was “a pretty charmed life.” He idolized his dad: “It was just me looking up to him. He was amazing, him in his white coat.” But at the same time, he acknowledges, “there was a distance” between them.
Part of the problem was “my dad being lost in kind of being who he was.” In the show he calls his busy and often absent father “Gastroman, saving the world one butt at a time.”
In addition to distance, though, Dad wanted to dominate his son’s life. “My father nudged me, forced me to play guitar even though I wanted to play drums.” Since Steve plays guitar and sings songs he composed as part of the show, that nudge might have been prescient. But that really wasn’t the point, at least at the time.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Steve grew up with low self-esteem, feeling “I’m kinda stupid,” he said. He did not do well on his SATs. Still he got accepted to Boston University, but only to its College of Basic Studies; CBS is known on campus as the Coloring Book School. But while he was there, he discovered — wait for it — that if you study you can actually improve your grades.
He briefly decided to go against his father’s wishes and drop out of a pre-med program but changed his mind after deciding that providing first aid to someone suffering a seizure in the school library might be a sign from God. Or, as he says in the show:
“I can’t help but wondering if the guy with the seizure was actually an actor hired by my dad. It’s not crazy. My dad has a Ph.D. in getting me to do what he wants.”
But medical school it is. Then a residency in internal medicine and a discovery: “As much as I’ve always wanted to go into practice with my dad, turns out proctology is not for me,” he said. “I just don’t have my dad’s affinity for poop.”
Against his father’s wishes, Steve goes into psychiatry, another in a series of tiny walls put up between them. When he’s married with children, he moves to Teaneck, where his wife’s family lives. He opens a practice in Ridgewood and New York City. But there were things that gnawed at him.
“I was in my early 40s and tried to hide it from him for a while, but I eventually told my dad I’m not religious anymore,” Dr. Wruble said. “I did my own therapy and decided to be courageous and tell people who I was.”
Now divorced and living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Dr. Wruble attends services run by Rabbi Zac Fredman. “He’s a musician. He plays guitars during the service and they have Middle Eastern instruments. I love music. That’s the type of Judaism I’m into. It’s called Renewal Judaism.”
He also seems to have renewed himself. Dr. Wruble started composing and performing music and doing standup, mostly at open mic nights in the area, but also as far away as Berlin. He contributed to the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” where his chapter, appropriately, was “Trump’s Daddy Issues — A Toxic Mix for America.”
All this ultimately led to “Daddyland,” a play he performed privately for his parents well before it opened. “My dad said, ‘You’re not going to do this publicly, are you?’ But my mom, sitting there, said, ‘Steve is trying to get you to see him, to allow him to be different and okay with it. He’s different from you.
“‘Can’t you just let him be different?”
So what has he learned from his experiences? “I let my dad know who I am, not who I want him to be,” Dr. Wruble said.