A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City is now playing until this March 1 at the Sol Children’s Theatre, courtesy of theatre company Primal Forces. The 2016 play by Halley Feiffer is not to be confused with A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, the famous Sondheim musical the former work’s title is an exceedingly wordy riff.
Instead, this fast-paced romp tells the much darker but still surprisingly funny tale of struggling comedian Karla (Shelley Keelor) and millionaire entrepreneur Don (Seth Trucks). They form an unexpected connection while their hospital-roommate mothers fight cancer at the location mentioned in the title.
Karla and Don’s budding connection follows a more or less typical rom-com trajectory. The show explores the more poignant story of Karla’s attempts to repair her relationship with her mother Marcie (Jerri Iaia), which had become strained due to a family tragedy.
Don, meanwhile, is dealing with a recent divorce and his teenage son’s rebellious behavior while struggling to accept that his mother, Geena (Linda Bernhard), is unlikely to recover from her illness.
The play’s dialogue peppers the performance with plenty of razor-sharp and daring black comedy, as well as some memorable physical gags. A good old glass of water to the face never goes out of style, and it turns out a handicapped bathroom can be a pretty convenient place for some hanky-panky!
Don’s sensitivity and complexity made him a far more engaging character than his obnoxious counterpart. Karla, who casually makes rape jokes in front of her sleeping mother, spent a good portion of her young adulthood in a drug-fueled haze. She scarcely thinks of anything but herself.
Perhaps Karla’s immaturity would have been more forgivable if the character came off as a little younger. Karla’s self-absorption does not go unremarked by the play’s other characters. Still, it made her somewhat hard to root for despite her trying family circumstances.
Thanks in large part to Keelor and Truck’s chemistry, their courtship was still easy to root for, as was Laia’s feisty Marcie. Bernhard has far less to do than Geena. Still, he delivers her few lines excellently, managing to remain engaged and engaging through subtle movements even when her character is unconscious and clinging to life.
Finally, Dustin Hamilton’s realistic set should be unfortunately familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a hospital, complete with nurses doing their rounds during scene changes.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City doesn’t overstay its welcome. The show manages to impart a few moving insights about grief, healing, and forgiveness, along with its irreverent jabs. If only we could all spend less time denying our mortality and more time is laughing in its face!
Ilana Jael earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Writing and Psychology from Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College. She also served as co-founder of the student theatre troupe “Theatre in the Raw.” She has been dabbling in both playwriting and acting since high school. A few favorite roles include Rebel in Columbinus (Bob Carter’s Actor’s Rep), The Fearful One in The Cave (G-Star School of The Arts), and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Theatre In The Raw). Her one-act plays Goodbye, Karma’s A Bitch, Certainly Not About Him, and Open Heart have also been previously performed at Actor’s Rep and/or at Florida Atlantic University. More recently, Ilana appeared in and created the original musical ZeeZou’s Stardust Extravaganza with Area Stage’s Miami Queer Theatre Collective. Her short plays have been produced virtually by New City Players, Theatre Lab, and Femuscripts. She is also a current company member of New City Players, and you can check out her theatre blog at ilanaintheatreland.com!