‘Thoroughly enjoyable sideways look at a serious subject.’
What do you do when your post-op mother is semi-comatose in a hospital bed? Do you chat away cheerfully as normal or do you mope at the bedside waiting for the worst to happen? In the European premier of this play, by rising star of the American theatre scene Halley Feiffer, Karla takes the former option. She’s a stand-up comic trying out some new material about her non-existent love life and is inadvertently shocking prudish Don who is quite happy with the second option and is moping behind the curtain.
Millennial Karla is sassy and confident and not afraid to poke fun at dishevelled misery guts Don but as with all odd-couple friendships, just below the surface they’re more alike than they’d like to admit. As they grow closer problems are aired (his teenage nightmare of a son, her fractious relationship with her mother) to the sound of the moms’ occasional snuffles and snores and an unlikely paring is created.
But the moms are not quite as comatose as they initially seem.
Who better to cast as a stand-up comic than one of the country’s best stand ups? Cariad Lloyd proves she is also a cracking actor and her fireball performance is a perfect pairing with Rob Crouch’s dishevelled man-on-the-edge. The pair have impeccable timing and the more low-key parts are as beautifully played as the upbeat comedy. The visual disparity between the pair is also played beautifully.
This isn’t a play about cancer but about the effect that serious illness has on family members; the sudden reality of your own and your parents’ mortality and the desperation to clutch life with both hands when illness hits.
As Don’s mom, Cara Chase is mostly unconscious but still gives a compelling performance with pain etched across her face as her fingers clutch at the sheets. Kristin Milward as Karla’s mom turns out to be a demanding bully but we sense there’s a softer core under the brittle exterior. Life hasn’t been easy for her but having cancer doesn’t turn you into a soft-focus sob-story.
Isabella Van Braekel’s set is brilliant. From the salmon-mousse coloured walls to the hospital grade curtains the ward detailing is impeccable. Special shout out to those paintings adorning the walls!
Direction from Bethany Pitts keeps the pace moving although the action sagged a little in the second half and the play went way beyond the advertised eighty minutes. A short interval wouldn’t have gone amiss.
First-rate performances and superb writing combine to make a thoroughly enjoyable sideways look at a serious subject.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecological Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York by Halley Feiffer
Directed by Bethany Pitts
Presented by Arsalan Sattari Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
Finborough Theatre 2 – 27 October 2018
Siân Rowland is a playwright and comedy writer represented by Kitson Press.