Mark McGoldrick was every parent’s nightmare as a teenager. From school expulsions to fist fights — he actually broke his hand three times as a result of his extracurricular punching activities — the rebellious youth was clearly in need of lesson in restraint.
A lesson came in the form of a car accident in which, at age 17, McGoldrick broke much of his body, most notably, his neck. The spinal cord injury checked the self-destructive teen’s conduct in a very physical way — it left him paralyzed.
“In a strange way I broke my neck at a perfect time in my life because I had lived long enough in the world to have some sense of how I wanted the world to treat me. I was a privileged white guy and all of a sudden I’m a guy in a wheelchair.”
Inspired by the rich body of stories that resulted from the life-altering experience McGoldrick, 42, penned the semi-autobiographical one-man show “Countercoup.” The two-hour show, onstage at the Marsh, revisits McGoldrick’s tumultuous adolescence, where confrontation and delinquency reigned, and then explores his life inside a rehabilitation hospital following the accident.
“I don’t want people to take something like that away,” he says. “It’s not a motivation of mine. I’m doing this because it’s a good body of stories that say a lot about life. I’m not shopping this around for parents to bring theirteenagers by the ear to. Making art for that kind of reason is not my style.”
The second half of “Countercoup” transitions into a buddy story of sorts and looks at the rather contrasting experiences of McGoldrick and his newfound friend Jim during their stay in a rehabilitation hospital. McGoldrick, who went on to graduate from Harvard Law School, fared better than his friend. It was at this point when he found himself faced with the reality that life, for some unexplainable reason, can turn out so much better for one individual than another. While he attributes certain external factors to his success — support from family and friends, health insurance, money and education — he remains intrigued by how similarly situated individuals respond to life so differently.
Even though the “Countercoup” creator finds it difficult to pinpoint what he wants audiences to take away from the show, he hopes to at least shine a light onto an oft-overlooked population.
“This is not a world that makes it into popular media as much,” he says. “All over the world there are little pockets of rehab units that are kind of ignored, but there’s a whole of life going on there.”
IF YOU GO
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; closes Oct. 20
Where: The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org