Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City (Route 66 Theatre)

| August 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

Stef Tovar, Meg Thalken and Mary Williamson star in A Funny Thing Happened, Route 66 Theatre            
      

  

A Funny Thing Happened...

Written by Halley Feiffer  
Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Sept 23  |  tix: $20-$35  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets    
     


    
  

Though nicely acted, dark comedy never quite gels

  

Mary Williamson, Meg Thalken, Stef Tovar and Judy Lea Steele star in A Funny Thing Happened

    
Route 66 Theatre presents
    
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
  Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial
  Sloan-Kettering Center of New York City

   
Review by Lauren Whalen

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City (this is the first and last time I will refer to the title in full) feels like a very personal story. Playwright and actress Halley Feiffer’s take on mothers, children, cancer and inappropriate jokes may or may not be based on true experiences (I can’t find any evidence that it is or isn’t). The problem with adapting personal experiences is that they doesn’t always translate, coming off as Mary Williamson and Stef Tovar star in A Funny Thing Happened at Route 66 Theatreindulgent rather than universal, or just simply scattershot. A Funny Thing has the latter issue: despite excellent performances, the play as a whole never quite gels.

Set entirely in a New York hospital room, A Funny Thing opens with Karla (Mary Williamson), a twentysomething stand-up comedian, trying out some jokes. Said jokes involve sexual assault and what used to be called a “marital aid,” and meanwhile Karla’s mother, Marcie (Meg Thalken), lies unconscious in her bed. On the other side of the hospital curtain is Geena (Judy Lea Steele), who’s also dying of cancer, and her son Don (Route 66 Artistic Director Stef Tovar), a middle-aged divorcé with shabby clothes and an estranged teenager. Don is not a fan of Karla’s jokes, and when he calls her on it, an unorthodox relationship begins.

A Funny Thing is a play about a stand-up comedian that feels like it’s written by a stand-up comedian. There’s a through line and plenty of funny exchanges (not just between Karla and Don, but also involving Marcie once she wakes up), but Feiffer’s script isn’t as cohesive as it should be. The opening sequence, with the rape/vibrator joke, feels painfully drawn out and forced. Things get considerably more interesting when Marcie starts talking, but the play takes far too long to get there. Director Keira Fromm does what she can pacing-wise, but the source material only allows so much. By far, the play’s best bit is its intimacy sequence, which is hilarious, honest and wonderfully choreographed by Sasha Smith. Courtney O’Neill’s scenic design is also noteworthy, recreating a hospital room with peeling linoleum and garish pink walls with so much detail I could practically smell the antiseptic.

Mary Williamson, Judy Lea Steele and Stef Tovar star in A Funny Thing Happened, Route 66 TheatreStef Tovar, Meg Thalken and Mary Williamson star in A Funny Thing Happened, Route 66 Theatre

Thankfully, A Funny Thing has an excellent cast that almost (but not quite) make up for the script’s considerable flaws. Tovar’s Don is uptight and old fashioned, but has an utterly lovely vulnerability that makes him both sympathetic and fascinating to watch. Steele only has a few lines, but they’re memorably delivered with letter-perfect comic timing. Williamson is both hilarious and heartfelt as Karla, a fellow lost soul who uses terrible jokes and witty barbs to cover up her grief for her dead sister and her fear that she and her mother will never really connect. And as Karla’s mother Marcie, a jaded social worker who has a complicated relationship with both her daughter and her disease, Thalken brings a flawless combination of gravity and gallows humor. I wish Feiffer (who will be playing Karla at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles very soon) had a better editor or critique partner, who could have advised her to tighten up the play or make the beginning more eventful. A Funny Thing has so much potential in its dark humor, but despite a great cast, doesn’t quite get there.

  
Rating: ★★½
  

A Funny Thing Happened… continues through September 23rd at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $35 adults, $20 students, and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through Vendini.com (check for availability of half-price tickets). More at Route66Theatre.org(Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Mary Williamson, Meg Thalken, Judy Lea Steele and Stef Tovar star in A Funny Thing Happened, Route 6

Photos by Brandon Dahlquist 


  

artists

cast

Judy Lea Steele (Geena), Meg Thalken (Marcie), Stef Tovar (Don), Mary Williamson (Karla)

behind the scenes

Keira Fromm (director), Courtney O’Neill (scenic design), Mieka Van der Ploeg (costume design), Claire Chrzan (lighting design), Christopher Kriz (sound design), Amanda Hermann (properties design), Sasha Smith (intimacy choreographer), Catherine Allen (production manager), Helen Lattyak (stage manager), Matthew Bonaccorso (assistant stage manager), Alex Weisman (assistant director), Brandon Dahlquist (photos)

Mary Williamson and Stef Tovar star in A Funny Thing Happened, Route 66 Theatre

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Comedy, Den Theatre, Lauren Whalen, Route 66

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