Route 66 Theatre Company presents the Chicago premiere of Halley Feiffer’s comedy A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit At Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center Of New York City, directed by Keira Fromm. This verbosely titled play follows the unusual relationship between Karla, a twentysomething aspiring stand-up comic, and Don, a middle aged divorcee, whose ailing mothers are hospital roommates. Fresh and funny, this quirky comedy confronts the complicated nature of parent-child relationships with intelligence, humor, and grace.
Don’s mother Geena has had cancer for seven years; meanwhile Karla’s mother Marcie has been recently diagnosed, and as the two adult children sit at their mothers’ bedsides, the shared space forces them to interact with one another. After an initial personality clash, the two develop a fragile friendship as they grapple in different ways with the reality of their mothers’ illnesses. Feiffer’s writing is sharp, insightful, and hilarious. The hospital setting itself is used to great comedic advantage as Karla and Don argue through a curtain or make creative use of the handicap-accessible restroom. The presence of the two mothers also leads to some hilarious moments; although they appear to be asleep for the majority of the story, their occasional returns to consciousness are brilliantly timed.
Actors Mary Williamson and Stef Tovar form the heart of the story as Karla and Don. Williamson‘s mix of high energy, a down-to-earth demeanor, and a masterful command of irony make her a perfect choice for Karla, and Tovar brings a nuanced sincerity to Don that makes it easy to connect to him. The fantastic chemistry between the two drives the story forward through all its complicated twists and turns; it’s difficult to imagine a better pair of actors in these roles.
Judy Lea Steele, who played Karla’s mother Marcie at the performance I attended, captures the character’s sharp tongue and caustic sense of humor without losing her humanity. It’s an important balance to strike, as otherwise her harsh treatment of her daughter becomes utterly unforgivable. Instead, the combination of acting and writing that form Marcie allows her room to grow and change and makes the play’s hopeful ending believable.
Scenic design by Courtney O’Neill perfectly captures the environment of a hospital room, to the extent that both I and the people around me experienced that uniquely unsettling feeling that comes from being in a hospital. Costumes by Mieka Van der Ploeg feature carefully selected details that help bring the characters to life.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit At Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center Of New York City only runs for two more weekends, and it would be a shame to miss out on this bright, brilliant comedy that touches on so much of what makes us human.
Location: The Den Theatre’s Bookspan Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Dates: Thursday, August 31 – Saturday, September 23, 2017
Curtain Times: Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm & 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm
Tickets: Regular run: $35 adults; $20 students. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. Tickets are currently available on the Route 66 website.
All photos by Brandon Dahlquist.