BWW Review: A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY at Salt Lake Acting Company

BWW Review: A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY at Salt Lake Acting Company

There are few things better than a good shared laugh. Better combined with a good shared cry. Shared communally in a theater, near priceless. And it's joyful to write about the experience, even more satisfying when the review scribbles itself.

Sharing nothing but the Borscht Belt shtick inspiration of their titles, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY is a play, not the Stephen Sondheim musical, by Halley Feiffer. Salt Lake Acting Company again displays incisive ability to select enlightening, impactful plays.

"I've been single for so long, I've started having sexual fantasies about my vibrator," an aspiring comic character announces as the play's opening line. "I only rape myself with my vibrator when I'm overly tired" is another joke experimented before captive, comatose hospital patient roommates.

Laughter and pain are referenced in these lines, and the show gleefully skewers these two coin sides. With A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY, opening SLAC's 48th season, Sarah Shippobotham reveals her deft abilities guiding staging to deeply moving effect. I laughed uproariously and sobbed uncontrollably.

The director clearly grasps the play's message: Share love. With family members. Specifically after a kinship developed when there's a chance meeting of hospital room visitors. And more randomly with strangers (on a subway ride, unexpectedly sharing ear buds but exchanging no words).

When "shit happens," as we hear, "you just got to figure it out" is the advice that follows. And continue to love.

Karla (Cassandra Stokes-Wylie) visits her cervical cancer-inflicted mother, Marcie (Marlon Markham), on one side of the hospital room set. Separated by a flimsy dividing curtain is techie nerd Don (Chris DuVal), sitting bedside his also cervical cancer-stricken mother, Geena (Annette Wright, given no lines but a beautiful comatose patient). Karla doesn't step into Geena's side of the room, and Don doesn't venture into Marcie's side of the room without a strong intent Shippobotham has designed in the blocking.

It will be important later to know and fully appreciate A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY that Karla and Marcie struggle to afford the hospitalization, while Don owns a five-bedroom Central Park West apartment (with a seafoam-green scheme). Karla's a standup comic, experimenting new lines, with a challenged relationship to her mother. Along with a son, Don's an angry father to an insulting, drugged-out child who is grieving the recent separation from his wife. The two are oceans apart. A bond grows between the odd couple. They are enriched. Also [spoiler alert] sexually satisfied in a brief hilarious scene.

The colors of Thomas George's skillful and remarkably accurate period set are beautifully hideous (including a drab seafoam green). I considering testing the water flow of the stage-right sink as I walked to a seat, and happily discarded my empty water bottle in a trash can near one bed at play end. There's a gruesome painting hanging in the room, in which I was pleased to learn I wasn't the only audience member that could see a vagina reference. Hat tip, George.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY 's playwright (and actor) -- whose father is cartoonist Jules Feiffer -- took on the Karla role in Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse staging after the 2016 off-Broadway premiere. It's unimaginable that Stokes-Wylie has less insight into the character. She movingly portrays an internal anguish while captivating us.

DuVal has an appealing nonchalant acting style here. Don, Karla's comic foil, is heartbroken and clearly down-on-his-luck (though wealthy!) and completely sympathetic.

Their dialogue exchanges are perfectly paced, even allowing for varying audience responses, of mirth and sobs.

Markham has few expertly timed lines of comic dialogue, caustically sharp, and she excels. Marcie has cancer. She's allowed to joke about it. With "Who do I have to fuck around here to get a fizzy water?," we see where Karla received a penchant to shock.

It's additionally gleeful to hear "fuck" easily spoken in the former Mormon chapel-cum-theater, when current hierarchy now prefers discarded sanctuaries to be destroyed rather than reconditioned and repurposed. (My cousin owns the remains of an Idaho LDS meetinghouse, now used for storage, formerly a livestock barn; she has explained similar reconfigurations couldn't be repeated today.)

Two nitpicky flaws in costumer La Beene's otherwise splendid designs are Karla's too-new Converse tennies and the overstating text on her tank top. And sorry to only mention the negative, but there's no passage of the hours indicated in the lighting through the set's window.

Feiffer's writing is unconventional while traditional. A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY is tender, sardonic, and hilarious. Unique and insightful. And not to be missed.

And a sidenote thanks to MS Word for Cut-and-Paste. It's especially valuable with this play's title, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY.

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From This Author Blair Howell

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