Jennifer Christie reviews A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynaecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City now playing at the Finborough Theatre.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynaecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City
5 October 2018
The Finborough Theatre is a marvellously versatile space. The unique shape at the pointy end of the building has been reconfigured for each show I’ve seen there and the current seating versus playing space is the best yet.
The action takes place in a hospital ward where two ladies are in different stages of ovarial cancer: Geena is in the end stages and Marcie has only just begun. The ladies are on stage all the time and for the most part, asleep. Their presence though is vital to the story and its set up.
Marcie’s daughter Karla arrives first. Played by Cariad Lloyd we encounter Karla as an independent and strong woman who spends her time by the bedside of her sleeping mother trying out new material for her stand-up comedy. The content is very funny and very adult.
Don, played by Rob Crouch then quietly enters the space to sit with his mother Geena. The two visitors are unaware of the presence of another apperceptive being in the room and Don’s reaction to the smut he can hear coming from beyond the curtain is far from subtle. The whole scene is rocking with good farce.
The play sits in that gloriously awkward and often painful place where unutterable trauma is batted over the head with often inappropriate humour. Gut-wrenching laughter at a deathbed or a funeral seem socially unacceptable until you’ve been in that place. Laughter opens the door to expressions of unbearable sorrow and that is healthy.
Playwright Halley Feiffer proves herself equal to portraying this dance of emotions with panache and in the course of telling this story of illness and death she adds commentary on child rearing that likewise sears the heart. In yet another surprising twist two lonely and emotionally crippled individuals find solace and shelter with each other.
Under the fast and crisp direction of Bethany Pitts, Lloyd and Crouch equal the rhythm and interplay provided by the script and sweep the audience along with them on this roller coaster of a ride. Lloyd in particular gives a most believable performance seeming to physically shrink in size when her mother’s caustic remarks find their mark.
Some people may think that Cara Chase as Geena had an easy to role to play seeing that she slept a lot and utters one line only, however the focus needed to do that is quite phenomenal. After all, what if she had actually gone to sleep and missed her single, yet pivotal line.
Marcie, mother of Karla has rather more to say. Kristin Milward has one of the best moments in the play when she stirs to consciousness to interject just two words with impeccable timing. In later scenes Marcie says a whole lot more and for some inexplicable reason is forced to do so with her eyes shut. Something about the effect of the closed eyes jars with the force and venom of her words and reduces the character to a ventriloquist’s dummy.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynaecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City is a one-act play lasting just longer than it takes to say its name. It’s 80 minutes of finding oneself in all of these characters, acknowledging the vulnerability of the human condition. It is also 80 minutes of belly laughing. This artistic mirror on reality may be warped but it’s very enjoyable to watch.
Until 27 October 2018