A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City or AFTHOTWTTGOUAMSKCCONYC, currently running at Salt Lake Acting Company, is certainly a mouthful. This onerously titled mashup of a rom-com and end-of-life tale opens SLAC’s 2018-19 season with a thoughtul and deftly told tale.
AFTHOTWTTGOUAMSKCCONYC centers around a meet cute at the bedside of two mothers. One daughter, Karla (Cassandra Stokes-Wylie), and one son, Don (Chris DuVal), strike up a May-December romance while waiting for their mothers to die. Yep. That’s the plot. The mothers, Marcie (Marion Markam) and Geena (Annette Wright), are mostly set dressing for the first portion of the play, which is both comical and unnerving. Karla, a striving stand-up comic, is by the bedside to hopefully heal an acrimonious relationship with her mom, while Don sits by his mother’s side basically because he has no where else to go following a divorce. Also guilt. They both are laden with guilt.
The two principals are excellently cast. Chris DuVal plays his disheveled middle aged son, with wry Paul Giamatti-esque charm. (Is that a thing? Yes. I’m making it a thing.) He’s at once morose, defeated and wryly sardonic about the situation he finds himself in. While Cassandra Stokes-Wylie, plays her “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” directionless daughter with excellent notes of false bravado and insecurity. (Basically, this role is perfect for anyone who has been on countless casting calls, which Stokes-Wylie certainly has, from her time in NYC earning her Equity card.)
Meanwhile, behind the courtship, Marcie comes to more and more frequency as the play progresses. At first her interjections, from behind a wall of pain killers, are funny, more of a gag line. But then we begin to see this mother’s disappointment in her daughter, her acerbic barbs and jabs throwing ice water on what really was turning out to be a pleasant little love story. Markham plays the bitter NYC social worker with intensity, she is a smart ass and a grouch. As the walls begin to come down between mother and daughter, we clearly see that the wise-ass routine is a mask for her fear.
Because this play is centered about cancer, so no it can’t be all that funny, right?
Sarah Shippobotham’s steady handed direction is welcome. This is a tight script by NYC playwright Halley Feiffer and it needed no adornment.
Finally, SLAC fixture, Annette Wright, actually get’s to play a fixture. Her mother is down for the count until the play’s racy climax. I imagine Wright, who is our own local Carol Burnett and always a bright light in SLAC’s annual Voyeur productions, got a real kick out of literally laying down on the job. And the Tony for Most Convincing Comatose Cancer Patient goes to…
AFTHOTWTTGOUAMSKCCONYC is a rich play in a simple dressing. A hospital room and four people bound together by the fate that binds us all. It is both funny and poignant, irreverent and, yes, reverent. It runs through Oct. 21, 2018. Tickets and info here.
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