Generic Theater has always been a place to see newer shows or shows that you may not see at any of the other local Hampton Roads community theatres. The reason is because Generic has always been a home for shows that are different. Different than the formula that a lot of other theatre’s patrons expect and will accept. They provide a space that is needed and should be appreciated by all theatre artists because they provide a space for different shows that are not being rotated and repeated throughout every other local theatre. With Generic Theater’s Artistic Team’s selection of this piece of theatre, we see this in full effect. We see a piece of theatre that should be done and needs to be seen. This production is a comedy with a lot of heart. As you are laughing you will also find yourself thinking about what you would do if you were in the characters’ shoes.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, written by Halley Feiffer, made is premiere at the MCC Theater in New York City in the Spring of 2016. This play, with one of the longest titles, is directed by Kelly Gilliam. Ms. Gilliam does a brilliant job pulling together a top-notch team to support her in creating this wonderful piece of theatre.
Ms. Gilliam created some beautiful stage pictures and pushed her four actors to not only be funny but to bring a level of realism to illustrate this truly trying and emotional time in someone’s life. Ms. Gilliam gave each of her performers their own time to shine whether they were always talking or barely had any lines. Watching shows with Ms. Gilliam as a director is becoming one of my favorite past times. Seeing what she can do and creates provides such a joy for every audience that has the opportunity to see one of her productions.
The cast of four is lead by Caity Brown and Sean Thompson. Caity Brown portrays Karla who is a stand-up comedienne visiting with her mother Marcie played by Sherman McDaniel; a patient at the hospital. Sean Thompson plays Don who is there visiting his mother Geena played by Tina “Finn” Finnerty. These two young actors provide beautiful and touching moments that will make you laugh and cry. They both give you multiple chances to think what you would do if you were in their shoes and how you would react in their situation. However, out of the two Sean Thompson provides a more layered and genuine performance. Mr. Thompson’s performance seemed more controlled and executed with expertise. The levels that he creates as he deals with his life issues felt sincere, frustrating and provides a level of realistic response. Not to go unmentioned are Sherman McDaniel and Tina Finnerty who have the extraordinary challenge of being “asleep” in their hospital beds but still being attentive and attached to what is going on around them. Both women triumph over this hurdle with excellence. Ms. McDaniel’s performance is beautifully executed as she deals with her disease and her daughter. Even though she spends the entire show in a hospital bed, she is truly a joy to watch and see what she will say or do next.
The most outstanding technical element of this production is the set designed by Donna Lawheed. Mrs. Lawheed creates a space that truly does make you feel like you are in a hospital room. From the color of the walls to the tiny bathroom that inhabits the room the detail that Mrs. Lawheed brings to her design is a pleasure to behold. The sound design by Charles Owrey is fun and energetic and provides an excellent counterbalance from the heaviness of the subject matter. The lighting design works well for the production; however, I felt like the lights were too warm. Since the show is set in a hospital I wanted harsher and more sterile lighting to help make the set and audience feel even more like they were in a hospital room; especially a Cancer wing of a hospital. The wardrobe design by Kathy Hinson seemed slightly disjointed. The costumes for Ms. Brown seemed to have no clear direction and felt like she stole her clothes from a younger sibling or an early teenage child; that her character never mentioned having. For Mr. Thompson, there is a line that references how terrible his sweatpants are and that he is wearing them in public; however, the sweat pants he was wearing were very nice and kept the joke from landing. The hardest production element in this production was the Makeup Design by Philip Odango. Make-Up design is always a struggle in any production, especially when the front row of the audience is ten feet of less away from the actors. The makeup that was worn to age one of the actors was too much for such a small and intimate setting. Makeup is supposed to help accent and not be noticeable; but, from the front row you can see every line and detail. If this show was being presented on the Chrysler Hall stage above the Generic Theater space this would have had a totally different effect but in this space, it was not an effective element.
Overall, Ms. Gilliam’s talent as a director and her actors’ performances make for a wonderful and enjoyable evening of theatre. Generic Theater made an excellent choice in picking this show and putting Ms. Gilliam at the helm. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City” is a must-see production. You will laugh, think and enjoy all while supporting a much-needed theatre in the Hampton Roads area.
The show runs through March 17th and you can purchase tickets on their website at www.generictheater.org.