Finborough Theatre, London – until 27 October 2018
Plays like this are a gift to writers with word count limits – here you go, that’s 20% of a Londonist or 15% of an Evening Standard review completed just by copying the title. I narrowly missed seeing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City in New York City where Beth Behrs – the dispossessed heiress from 2 Broke Girls – played the blue-collar stand-up comedian whose mother just had surgery.
In a painfully realistic two-bed hospital room divided by a curtain, the comedian – now played by Radio 4’s Cariad Lloyd – is improvising some material based on having been single so long she’s having sex dreams about her vibrator. Or wet dreams. Except women don’t have them. Overheard by the son of the adjacent patient, she starts an antagonistic rant at the unseen and outraged eavesdropper.
If the first rule of comedy is ‘timing’ (and they do that joke, too) the second rule is that any stage encounter that starts with mutual antagonism must end up in bed. The third rule of American comedy is that however gallows the humour, however dark the plotting, there must be some sort of happy ending. This is an extremely good piece, but its failure to be even edgier and dangerous lies in the fact you can spot both these coming too early in the proceedings.
Author Halley Feiffer’s obsession is with parent/child relationships – Lloyd’s character likes her mother (Kristin Millward, bitingly funny) much more when she’s unconscious, beyond the curtain Rob Crouch is more concerned with why his estranged son doesn’t connect with him.
You could set this aside, the plotting is incidental to the connection between Lloyd and Crouch. Lloyd is very good, stand-up comedians sometimes have difficulty with the discipline of un-improvised scripts but she manages it with ease, and convinces entirely as the disaffected New Yorker struggling both with her career and to manage her failing mother.
Crouch has the much more difficult dramatic arc but travels it with tremendous skill – first required to be an unlikeable slob, transiting through awkward romantic to full-on philanthropic hero could be jerky and awkward in less accomplished actor, but he’s perfect in this role and has the best moments of pathos and comedy, including one of the most watchable – but unwatchable at the same time – sex scenes in a disabled toilet.
Sit on the left hand side of the audience for full accessibility.