Review: Halley Feiffer's A FUNNY THING...; Ever Hear The One About The Stand-Up Comic and The Millionaire?

By: Jun. 08, 2016
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If one wanted to begin a romantic comedy with the polar opposite of meeting cute, it would probably involve one person annoying the other with a series of rape jokes while both their mothers lie unconscious in their hospital beds, undergoing cancer treatment.

Beth Behrs and Lisa Emery
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

That's the initial challenge of Halley Feiffer's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City.

"I kinda don't think there's anything funnier than rape," stand-up comic Karla (Beth Behrs) says to her unresponsive mom as she uses her visit to work on new material.

She's unaware that on the other side of the room's privacy curtain, Don (Erik Lochtefeld) has entered to visit his own unresponsive mother, and that he's shocked and disgusted by what he hears.

After she considers, "I only play out my rape fantasies with my vibrator, 'cause I know it will always respect my safe word," Don's attempt to get Karla to lower her voice enough so that he won't hear her comes off as condescending and she reacts indignantly. Their conflict is ugly and even if the conventions of such set-ups are meant to start at the bottom and gradually bring the two to an affectionate understanding, the pair are each unlikable enough to made the prospect of spending the next ninety minutes watching them a dreadfully unappealing prospect.

Fortunately, the playwright and director Trip Cullman soon make it clear that these are two very troubled people whose social ineptitude and downright nastiness is a defense against acquiring new wounds, and that's when A FUNNY THING... turns interesting and, yes, funny.

Beth Behrs, Lisa Emery, Jacqueline Sydney
and Erik Lochtefeld (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Despite his unkempt appearance, Don became a millionaire selling the tech startup he created, but he's heartbroken over his wife's recently leaving him. Karla is a flashier character - the sort of person who's always performing - and while her situation isn't as developed by Feiffer, we can imagine the obstacles involved with a woman making a career out of being funny.

We do get a taste of where she gets it from on the occasions when Karla's mom, Marcie (Lisa Emery), wakes from her morphine haze and comes out with some salty remarks. Jacqueline Sydney, as Don's mother Geena, doesn't have much to do, but you have to admire her commitment to shaving her head for the small role.

While Feiffer brings Karla and Don to a point where they can drop their shields with one another (a bathroom sex scene that's wonderfully done with clumsy realism), reaching the possibility of a romance between the two does not appear to be the playwright's point. A FUNNY THING... is more about surviving the first baby steps of emotional healing and feeling safe enough to try one more.


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