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A CurtainUp Review
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City

I've been single for so long? I've started having sexual fantasies about my vibrator.. . Now what do you think works better, sexual fantasies or sex dreams? Or wet dreams?— Karla
Beth Behrs, Lisa Emery, Jacqueline Sydney, and Erik Lochtefeld (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
There's a method to the maddeningly long title of Hallie Feiffer's new play now in its world premiere at the Lortel Theater in the West Village. The title's simultaneous evocation of going to see a popular musical comedy and a decidedly less amusing visit to a place where people are dying sums up Ms. Feiffer's mission: To open up her audience to the possibility of experiencing unexpected joy and beauty — and, yes, humor — in the dark events that are part of all our lives.

Funny Thing. . . dramatizes this challenge with a setup that has a twenty-something improv comedienne and a nebbishy forty-something dot-com millionaire sitting at the bedsides of their cancer-stricken moms. The idea for this improbable romance between that son and daughter has been percolating with Feiffer since her college days when her own mom had a bout with the Big C (from which she recoverd). It's not easy to brighten a death watch situation with laughs and romance. But Feiffer does make the romance she's concocted blossom in full view of two dying women. It helps that Trip Cullman, who also helmed her terrific 2-hander, I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard, , is again on board to see that it all unfolds smoothly.

The play has four characters: The two sick moms and their son and daughter. The bedridden Marcie (Lisa Emery) and Geena (Jacquelne Sydney), are both asleep in adjoining hospital beds even as the audience enters the theater. While Funny Thing. . . may claim the longest title of any play currently on the boards, the role of Geena is probably the least demanding in terms of memorizing lines.

Most of the action revolves around Marcie's daughter Karla (Beth Behrs of 2-Broke Girls in a winning Off-Broadway debut) and Geena's son Don (Erik Lochtefeld, unsurprisingly excellent, given other plays I've seen him in). Karla is the first to arrive once the lights dim and the play begins. As it turns out, no hand-holding with mom for her. Instead she is using a new script to pass the time and sort of interact with her mother.

With a curtain drawn between the two beds and Don entering from the door opposite Marcie's bed, he doesn't see Karla when he takes his seat next to Geena's bed. He touches his mother tenderly then settles down to read his New Yorker but is rudely interrupted by the shockingly inappropriate talk from the other side of the screen. With his nerves on edge about his dying mother as well as an already dead marriage, it would take an anger management expert to keep him from becoming enraged. When he tells Karla to shut up, she also is too frazzled to respond politely.

Unsurprisingly there's a fairly quick turnaround of that hostile meet-up. Despite age, income and personality differences, an unlikely friendship, buoyed by sizzly sex, develops and helps them negotiate this painful period of their lives. And, yes they do experience joy — or so it would seem, given the moans of pleasure during their raunchy coupling in the bathroom.

Does all this mean that mean you can expect a happily ever after ending? If you expect both Marcie and Geena to miraculously rise from their beds to attend Karla and Don's wedding, no way. Maybe, if you're open-minded enough to see beauty in how these people overwhelmed by the challenges of their pasts and present help each other dealing with their troubles in and outside that hospital room. For Karla that means being able to connect in a meaningful way with her mother before it's too late; for Don it means a chance to better understand his troublesome teen aged son and perhaps find his way back to spending his time productively.

Though both Lisa Emery and Jacqueline Sydney spend most of the 85 minutes in drug-induced immobility, their wordless acting is the best and funniest thing about Karla and Don's big sex scene. Emery, too good an actress to be so under used, does get a chance to make Marcie a somewhat 3-dimensional character.

The design elements, true to all MCC productions, visually and aurally support what's happening on stage. The humor is often so over the top that it tends to overwhelm the darker subtext. Still, Feiffer, Cullman and the actors do manage to let that darkness ultimately surface.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City
Written by Halley Feiffer
Directed by Trip Cullman
Cast: Beth Behrs (Karla), Lisa Emery (Marcie), Erik Lochtefeld (Don), and Jacqueline Sydney (Geena
Sets: Lauren Halpern
Costumes: Kaye Voyce
Lighting: Matthew Richards
Sound: Darron L. West
Production Stage Manager: Samantha Watson
Running Time: 85 minutes, no intermission
MCC at Lucille Lortel Theater
From 5/19;16; opening 6/07/16; closing 7/03/16.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at June 3rd Press preview

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