ALTHOUGH an oncology department may not seem a likely setting for a humorous play, Halley Feiffer has pulled it off with A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Of New York City (yes, what a mouthful).
Feiffer’s play is getting its ‘world premiere’ airing at the ambitious Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea – and it works a treat. Witty writing combines with some excellent acting to make for a fun evening, even though the play over-ran by some 20 minutes (October 4).
It is based around a daughter (Karla) and son (Don) who come to visit their respective mothers – Marcie (Kristin Milward) and Geena (Cara Chase) – at the cancer center. Apart from Geena who is close to death’s door, the other three all have issues.
Karla (a spikey Cariad Lloyd) is an aspiring comedienne who has major anger problems. As prickly as a cactus. Milward’s Marcie is just as vicious, spitting venom from her bed as if she were a hospitalized cobra. Don (Rob Crouch) is somewhat milder (thank God) although a failed marriage and an out-of-control son leave him permanently on edge.
To begin with, Karla and Don clash like gladiators as Don takes offence at Karla’s non-pc vibrator jokes, a string of expletives and her stroppy attitude. They are initially divided by a hospital bed screen but it is soon drawn back so their exchanges can continue in earnest.
But it does not quite work out that way. Following an exchange between them where water is thrown and Don’s tracksuit bottoms are left on the floor to reveal some rather embarrassing boxer shorts, a personal entente cordiale is struck. In the exchanges that ensue, they peel back their exteriors to reveal more about themselves and inner selves scarred by a mix of tragedy and relationship issues.
Anger is replaced by an unlikely attraction which results in some carnal activities in the shower room, but not before Marcie starts spitting poison. ‘Get me a new nasal cannula and a new daughter,’ she hisses at Karla. Marvellously vitriolic.
It all ends rather happily although not without loss. Relationships are both bonded and restored – and character flaws acknowledged and addressed. All rather heartening given the grim backdrop and the omnipresence of the Grim Reaper.
This is a super production, skilfully directed by Bethany Pitts with clever set design by Isabella Van Braeckel and some super music (Jon McLeod).
The acting is top drawer. Lloyd underpins her tiny Karla with a Molotov cocktail mix of pent up anger, rejection and vulnerability. Crouch unveils the true Don in slices.
Physically shoddy to begin with, Don has kindness coursing through his veins which Crouch reveals quite cleverly.
But probably the star turn is Milward who is marvellous, delivering her many doses of verbal poison on her back in bed with a nasal cannula for intimate company. ‘I like you in a suit,’ she says to Don. ‘You usually look like a homeless person.’ Also, again to Don: ‘Your mother looked dead the day she got here.’ To Karla: ‘You bore me.’ Waspish. Vile.
Some of the monologues are a little long-winded but this is an unexpected gem of a play.
Catch it if you can. It runs until October 27.