CHICAGO -- His voice cracking with emotion, James Srodon recounted how a camera had been shoved down his throat during a Blue Man Group performance in Chicago, injuring his esophagus and resulting in nightmares.
The Blue Man Group, famous for its actors who don't utter a word, was forced to respond to Srodon's lawsuit, saying it was all just an illusion -- a camera never even entered his throat. In a bit of sleight of hand, as the camera is held near an audience member's mouth, a jumbo video screen switches to a prerecorded medical video, leading the audience to think it is peering down the individual's throat, the production said.
"We are disappointed that this false claim forces us to reveal the truth behind one of our most popular theatrical devices," Blue Man Productions said in its brief statement.
The producers referred to the comedic bit as the "Esophagus Video" and said it had played out in more than 50,000 performances over the last 15 years.
Srodon's lawyer, Antonio Romanucci, refused to back off the lawsuit's allegations, insisting that while the act might usually be a harmless illusion, it was a "stunt that went too far" for his client.
Srodon, 65, filed the suit in Cook County Circuit Court last week, seeking unspecified damages for battery, negligence and infliction of emotional stress.
At a news conference at his lawyer's Chicago office, Srodon spoke by telephone from his Los Angeles residence and called the incident a "surprise attack."
On Oct. 8, 2006, Srodon and his 8-year-old grandson were sitting in Row D of the Briar Street Theatre on Chicago's North Side when the room suddenly went dark during the Blue Man Group performance. As two cast members stepped from the stage and entered the audience, he saw one carrying a device with a small light, Srodon said.
One cast member grabbed him from behind and pulled his head back, Srodon said. As his head snapped back, his mouth opened, and the other cast member shoved the camera down his throat, he said. Srodon said he bit down on the cord holding the camera and slumped in his seat in a bid to escape. But his feet slipped on the floor, still wet from liquids splashed into the audience from earlier during the show. The ordeal was over in less than a minute, he said.
"I was really in a state of shock," Srodon said. "I really actually did not know what had just happened because it was so bizarre."
Srodon said his grandson was visibly shaken, so he later took him to an ice cream shop to calm the boy. There, Srodon said his throat burned as he drank a glass of water.
Srodon said the camera was filthy, covered in "food, liquid and grime," and that he later had his blood tested to ensure he hadn't contracted a disease.
After returning to Los Angeles a few days later, he started to choke and gag as he drove. Doctors determined he had suffered "a traumatic contusion" to the esophagus, his lawyer said.
"It was a very unsettling feeling," Srodon said. "I couldn't eat. I couldn't swallow anything. . . . It was just awful."
Srodon's lawyer said he tried to settle the dispute out of court. Srodon said he decided to file the suit to warn and protect other theatergoers.
But in its statement, Blue Man Group said it was "shocked and surprised" to learn of the lawsuit. The production said it had not yet been served with any legal papers.
Blue Man Group called the "Esophagus Video" a "hilarious and absurd illusion."
"Because the camera never enters the mouth, the execution of this illusion could not possibly put anyone at risk of injury," the act's statement said.