It’s hard not to fall for a leading lady who wears a bright pink sweatshirt that reads, “I love my poodle,” yet it is one of the more subdued touches in Halley Feiffer’s otherwise bold, crass, but touching dark comedy, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center of New York City.
The leading lady is Beth Behrs, best known for her role on television’s 2 Broke Girls. Behrs stars as Karla, a self absorbed, hipster, millennial comedian whose mother, Marcie (Lisa Emery) is battling cancer. As the show opens, Karla is working on some new raunchy material and reading it to her mother. Unbeknownst to her, Karla is reading her bits so loud that they can be overheard by Marcie’s fellow cancer stricken roommate Geena (Jacqueline Sydney) and Geena’s son, Don (Erik Lochtefeld). Don is high strung, neurotic, and irritable and has had enough of Karla’s antics. Without seeing one another between the closed hospital curtain, the pair begin an all out brawl about propriety and manners.
Like every story that starts with a pair of quarreling lovers, it doesn’t take a medical doctor to diagnosis a case of potential romance. With two dying matriarchs, Karla and Don begin to share laughs, insecurities, and in a rather explicit scene, they share…well, I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say this is not a family friendly show. Although I’m not a prude, the scene lingered a bit too long and could have been just as effective as a suggestion versus demonstration.
It is however, quite funny and offers much more than mere shock value humor. Under Trip Cullman’s direction, this cast truly delivers. Behrs, who is making her Off Broadway debut is a natural. Under her exterior of self-involvement there exists a genuine vulnerability and kindness. Lochtefeld is equally as perfect navigating through the emotional waters of family crisis, self loathing, and bliss. Emery and Sydney turn in winning performances as well. They may even have the toughest roles in the show for although their lines are few, they are well timed. Plus. There is an enormous amount of physical nuance as their characters lay in a hospital bed, fighting for their lives. Lauren Helperen’s finely detailed set provides an ideal clinical setting.
MCC Theater’s A Funny Thing… is the type of the show that will provoke reflection. When I left the Lucille Lortel Theater. I was not overcome with emotion. Yet the more I thought about it, the more moving it became. Feiffer’s message here is a crucial survival lesson for life’s uncertainties. Laughing at grave situations does not necessarily equate to apathy.It simply means that we have a coping method-or to quote the sage lyrics of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett: “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”
A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center of New York City is now playing through July 3rd at the Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street NY NY). For Tickets, visit the box office or click here.