New at the Finborough Theatre, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City proves gently compelling
“I can make cancer jokes. Because I have cancer”
Deep breath – Halley Feiffer’s play is entitled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, an entry into titles that are amusingly long when you start to read them but soon end up trying the patience (qv We Are Proud To Present… and I’d Rather Goya…). Overall though, the play is better than that.
A wee slip of a thing at barely 80 minutes, it’s a admirably bold take on ‘the cancer play’. That much is clear from the ribald humour of its opening sequence and an initial sense that the focus isn’t going to be on the two women in the hospital beds, but rather their adult children – Cariad Lloyd’s Karla and Rob Crouch’s Don – who are putting in the hours at their bedsides.
Karla’s mother Marcie has just been admitted and signs are looking positive since they’ve caught it early, but Don’s mum Geena has spent seven years with ovarian cancer. And so their takes on life, as they step around each other in the shared hospital room in which they visit, could not be more opposed and naturally, something of a bond builds between them as they realise the support that they can offer.
Their burgeoning friendship is a delight to behold as aspiring stand-up Karla wields her comedy as a spiky defence mechanism, and aspiring divorcé and failing parent Don is helpless to resist. Lloyd and Crouch bounce off each other wonderfully and it’s a slow-burn of a relationship that you can’t help but get invested in, as unlikely as it seems that this is where a meet-cute might actually happen.
Bethany Pitts’ production can’t quite the slightness here though, particularly in the way that the focus is so definitively moved away from the cancer victims. Kristin Milward makes the most of Marcie’s jet-black humour in her one moment to shine but Cara Chase’s Geena gets barely one line which seems to make her more of a victim than she necessarily needs to be.
Still, Isabella Van Braeckel’s design makes great use of the intimacy of the Finborough to get up close and personal, and Lloyd and Crouch’s pairing is gently compelling. Plus, a newly refurbished Finborough Arms has opened up again underneath, hurrah!