By Sandi Durell
Nothing in life is sacred or off limits in this pop culture sensibility. We laugh, instead of cry when the emotional roller coaster takes us to places of pain from which we need relief. And, along the way, sometimes, we find love in the most unusual circumstances. Halley Feiffer’s latest offering – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City – (yes, a very long title) is just that kind of life situation, but more so.
Halley Feiffer, actress turned playwright and daughter of Jules Feiffer, has shown her muster with “I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard,” winning the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award in 2015. She’s also had an extensive acting career on stage and in film.
This latest adventure, at MCC Theatre at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, takes us into the world of a young narcissistic comedienne wannabe, of the foul mouth, practicing her bits on her mother Marcie (Lisa Emery) who lies sleeping in a hospital bed, and undergoing cancer treatment. The potty-mouthed ADD-type Karla is hilariously played by TV’s 2 Broke Girls’ Beth Behrs, as her latest routine includes being raped by a well-oiled guy or better still by a large vibrator. Well, I’m not too sure that rape should be made into so laughable and light a topic but, be that as it may, Feiffer is determined to push the buttons till they break.
On the other side of the hospital room curtain, separating the beds (set design by Lauren Helpern), lies an elderly woman (Jacqueline Sydney) dying of brain cancer, her nebbish son Don (Erik Lochtefeld) – dressed as a slob with holes in his shoes and jacket – is aghast and seething with anger listening to Karla go over her routines as four-letter words and descriptions flow. When he tries to shush the 20-something on the other side, he’s met with ranting and raving akin to someone who is in need of some serious meds.
Don is undergoing a divorce, has a teenage son on drugs, and becomes much more attractive to Karla, who initially puts him down with vituperative challenges, until she learns he recently sold a wedding website and is now basking in millions, albeit living a low-key lifestyle.
The progression of their relationship is somewhat impalpable but for the fact that here are two major lonely, dysfunctional people, who are thrown together grieving and feeling sorry for themselves. He grieves because he truly loves and will miss his mother; she because she hasn’t as yet received the love and approval of her own potty-mouthed mother. Mom Marcie is also a piece of work and, as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
A torrid affair in the handicapped bathroom ensues (a really funny visual) as Karla doesn’t’ stop talking throughout, the mothers adding their own punctuations “He’s a good boy” – “She’s a funny girl.”
Life can be very inappropriate and people say the weirdest things in the most unusual circumstances, especially when dealing with reality that often prompts a great escape. A Funny Thing is just such a time and place.
Trip Cullman is a genius at directing this ensemble of top-notch actors who really know how to throw a punch.
A Funny Thing Happened . . . MCC Theater at Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street) runs 85 minutes, no intermission. www.mcctheater.org Photos: Matthew Murphy