Wednesday, November 23, 2022


By Chuck Graham,


photo by Nicci Radhe

Karla (Samantha Cormier) has never met anyone quite like Don (Ryan Parker Knox) when both visit their terminally ill mothers in the same hospital room at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Illogical as it may seem, life is stronger than death. Although everyone does die, the unquenchable will to live means there will always be more life being born – no matter what.

Such profound thoughts come spontaneously with the territory, whether you're ready or not, in the Next Stage Theatre Southwest's stunning production of the lengthily titled “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecological Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City,” playing through Dec. 4 in the upstairs Cabaret Theater at the downtown Temple of Music and Art. Mark Klugheit is directing.

The playwright of this specifically identified tome is Halley Feiffer – yes, daughter of the fabled humorist Jules Feiffer. She knows all about the healing power of laughter.

The dialogue between Karla (Samantha Cormier), a wannabe stand-up comedian working on a sexy new routine, and Don (Ryan Parker Knox), a dedicated computer nerd who became an accidental billionaire, is brilliantly written. It's also filled with scatological language as brazen as it is rudely sexual and politically incorrect.

Eager to shock her audience with pornographic bombshells, Cormier can dash off the most purplish of prose and make it sound innocent as the instruction sheet for operating a new sex toy.

Knox is a floppy-haired and frumpily dressed misfit who would scarcely attract anyone's attention – if he wasn't so darned wealthy. However, the play is not about money or sex. It is about life, and the determination of life to become more important than death.

As that title suggests, we are in a pastel pink hospital room shared by two terminally ill patients at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The two patients are Karla's mom Marcie (Susan Arnold) and Don's mom Geena (Pat Timm). While both patients do acquire a defining presence on stage, it is their children Karla and Don who do most of the talking. Their chemistry with each other keeps pulling them tighter and tighter in a palpable togetherness that never loses its balance.

Within the 75-minute framework of this one-act, both actors will become so transformed their compulsively spontaneous, double-jointed sex scene in the hospital room's tiny restroom (OK, not everything is dialogue) becomes both hilarious and heartwarming.

Karla fights the sadness of her mom's terminal illness by refusing to face it. Her mom is the cynical sort. In a sense, she is the mirror image of her daughter. It's easy to imagine Karla's mom was a big believer in the “tough love” concept.

Don's battle is simpler. One of them is living and one is dying. Don is taken by the unfairness of it. Would he be willing to trade places with his kindly mom? Karla has a rude joke for every occasion.

Years ago these two very different moms made all the rules for these two children. Rebelling, for the kids, was easy. But now the children are in charge and their moms are the helpless ones.

Only...these two grown-up children aren't feeling all that grown up. They are fighting today's battles with yesterday's weapons. Though Karla and Don do seem very different when we first meet them, we come to see they are fighting the same battle.

“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City” runs through Dec. 4. Performances are Friday, Nov. 25, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 26, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 27 at 2 p.m.; Thursday, Dec. 1, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 3, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 4, at 2 p.m. in the upstairs Cabaret Theater of the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

Tickets are $25 general admission, with discounts for senior citizens, students and military. For further details and reservations, 520-907-7209.


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