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A CurtainUp Review
God Said "Ha!"

Julia Sweeney's name isn't exactly a household word for theater goers. If the audience at the performance of her mono-tragicomedy God Said, "Ha!" is an indication,however, she will attract a large cheering section from her former life as Pat on "Saturday Night Live." Much of this show clearly reflects the influence of late night comedy routines, with well-timed one-liners running throughout her ninety minute performance. The more serious subtext, the re-connection of her scattered family ties when illness strikes, has all the earmarks of a made-for-t.v. movie. In fact, we caught part of a very moving full-cast production of just such a story based on a real case, also involving a touching brother-sister relationship last Sunday (For Hope). But, as written and performed by the genial Ms. Sweeney, God Said, "Ha!" is neither just another stand-up routine drawing on the unspoken subject matter associated with black humor, nor is it a tear-jerker movie-as-play. It is a subgenre of other "how I survived" staged autobiographies (Evan Handler's well-received one-man story of his cancer battle comes to mind) within that economically seeded larger genre of mono-plays.

Theater goers asked to plunk down their hard-earned cash at the box office are likely to ask "Do I really want to spend an evening hearing about two Seinfeld-aged people suddenly hit by the Big C?" Ms. Sweeney works hard to transform an "act" into a dramatic evening of tales about a somewhat ditzy family that turns out to be functional in all the ways that counts. Everybody is, as the therapeutic lingo would have it, is there for each other when it matters. The tales we are told range from a night out with her visiting parents when she was still living in New York to her romance with a man from far off Idaho. As for the traumatic events that bring all the Sweeneys under one roof, (Julia's), after years of leading very separated lives, the pain is distilled by Julia's own self-deprecating humor and her portrayal of her family. She is particularly successful in picturing the funny-sad, control-freak brother Mike who demands a card with credentials from every doctor and even the priest who comes to administer the last rites.

If this sounds better and better all the time, well, it is better than what you'd expect given the premise of "My year as a cancer care giver and cancer patient." The old lesson that God can step in and say "Ha!" no matter how much we think we are in control of our lives always bears repeating. Ms. Sweeney is a skillful and endearing ranconteur. Unfortunately, the laughs diminish the genuine emotional impact of any story like this.

Michael McGarty, whose set designs for Master Class and the Sharon Stage summer 1996 production of Dreamland we admired, has provided Ms. Sweeney with a slick California living room to wander around in. While this does serve to give some sense of this being a play more than an extended comedy routine, it's not enough. In the final analysis God Said "Ha!" is a little of this and a little of that, but not enough of a full-bodied play.

Written by and starring Julia Sweeney
Directed by Beth Milles
Scenic Design by Michael McGarty
Lighting Design by Russell H. Champa
Costume Design by Connie Martin
Sound Design by John Shivers
Lyceum, 149 W. 45th St., (Broadway/6th Av)
11/07/96-12/08/96; opening 11/19/96

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