Ms. Feiffer’s rudimentary characters communicate by the sledgehammer approach to comedy. Until the mawkish finale there is a barrage of zingers, one-liners and vulgarisms. If a theatrical awards body had a category that honored the most abundant use of the word “fuck,” this play would be a major contender for such an honor.
There’s a zany extended sight gag where a man performs oral sex on a woman while she sits raised up on a bathroom sink with all of the requisite orgasmic sounds and facial expressions. The couple closing the door for this encounter wouldn’t have fit the play’s hollow schema.
A lengthy exchange involves a discussion of a “Shouts and Murmurs” column in The New Yorker about a condom. It’s one of numerous digressions that lamely attempt to add sophistication.
At the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer, Karla is a struggling stand-up comedian in her late 20’s who is practicing her “bits” near the bedside of her sleeping social worker mother Marcie, who’s in her late 50’s. Karla’s crude material is centered on a routine about her vibrator. Also in the curtained off double hospital room is the late 40’s nebbish Don. He is visiting his 65-year old comatose mother, Geena. Both of their mothers are suffering from ovarian cancer.
Don is appalled by Karla’s inappropriate intrusiveness and confronts her. A predictable romantic comedy relationship develops between these two socially inept misfits from widely different economic backgrounds.
He is a millionaire due to selling his Internet company “PerfectWeddings.com” that he founded with his ex-wife who has recently left him for another woman. He has since decamped from his lavish Central Park West residence to quarters closer to the hospital. Lurking in the narrative are references to his drug addicted young son and Karla’s sister who died of a drug overdose.
Beth Behrs is incessantly irritating as Karla. Ms. Behrs’ strident characterization includes a croaky voice and an animated physicality. Costume designer Kaye Voyce has dressed Behrs in different color floppy wool winter caps, jeans, sneakers, a striped shirt, oversized sweatshirts, and a black floral patterned sweater jacket during the play’s three scenes. This all screams “hipster” and completes the representation of this two-dimensional character.
Erik Lochtefeld is a fine actor with an amiable presence but lacks the charisma to make the role of Don fully engaging. In another era, the likes of Judd Hirsch, Ron Leibman or Tony Roberts would have triumphed as such a Jewish neurotic. Mr. Lochtefeld does deserve plaudits for maintaining his composure and dignity throughout the often awkward situations that he has to endure, such as throwing exaggerated tantrums and that bathroom sequence.
The veteran and distinguished actress Lisa Emery as Marcie makes the most of this supporting role with her amusing fierceness. Though mostly silent, Jacqueline Sydney as Geena with her shaved head, expressive features and wry delivery is quite vivid.
Director Trip Cullman’s staging is straightforward but he has the leading actors overplaying to the point of desperation.
The hospital room is excellently represented by Lauren Helpern’s detailed rendering that has the clever touch of framed Georgia O’Keeffe posters on the walls. Matthew Richards’ lighting design is suitably basic. Darron L. West’s sound design chiefly consists of professionally broadcasting the loud rock songs that punctuate scene changes.
The Shadow Box, As Is and Wit are notable plays that have dramatized the ramifications of serious illness with resonance, humor and compassion. With its stock characters, deficient writing and shrill presentation, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City is a superficial and grating take on the subject.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City (through July 3. 2016)
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.mcctheater.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission