CitySpeaks: Cancer on the American Stage

October 13th, 2017 / Posted in 2017-2018 Season, CitySpeaks, Funny Thing, Uncategorized

While cancer is not an easy topic to tackle, it’s certainly a relatable subject. How has City Theatre managed this issue while working with A Funny Thing Happened…?

By Emily Ernst, Literary Intern

What do these statistics mean for the cast, creative team, and staff at City Theatre for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City? Comedies such as Halley Feiffer’s play seem as though they’d be a laugh a minute in rehearsal, but the personal realities surrounding these topics can be challenging to a theatrical team. I spoke with a few of the staff members here at City Theatre, and this is what they say about how their individual experiences with cancer have influenced their relationship to the script:

On the closeness of cancer…

Have you or have you ever known anyone that has fought cancer? Have those experiences influenced your work on the production?

Leah Blackwood, Scenic Artist

“My father was treated at Sloan-Kettering from 1996-98. It was exciting for him to know the hospital was world renowned and his doctors were at the top in their field. Sadly, they could not save him and he died in 1998. Also, only two weeks ago, I lost my best friend to cancer. She had been in Sloan-Kettering’s care for seven years fighting colon and liver cancer, and eventually lung and bone cancer as it spread… Working on this play has made me very emotional, from building Tony Ferrieri’s model to seeing the completed set. When Patti Kelly took the actors onto the set at the first day of tech in costume, I was swept over with emotion.”

Christina Bordini, Company Manager

“I’ve unfortunately known too many loved ones to be stricken by cancer. Some have survived, some have not. But nothing hits you quite as hard as when you find out one of your parents has been diagnosed. When I was a freshman in high school, my family found out on the day before Christmas Eve that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say, that winter break was not the most fun of my adolescence. For the next few months that turned into years, my mom fought her hardest, and thankfully, came out on the other end with a clean bill of health. But every year when she goes for her check-up, we all hold our breath… The word “cancer” itself is very scary, and it shakes you to your core when it’s in association with a loved one. That’s why I love that this play is a comedy; when you go through a situation like that, a good sense of humor and optimism can make all the difference… I believe it’s important to make our audiences laugh, while also dealing with a heavy subject matter like cancer. It’s a universal issue. I believe our audiences will appreciate the humor, while also relating to the nitty gritty of the down moments. All we have is each other. If we can’t laugh at the little things in our unfortunate times, all we’ll do is cry.”

Taylor Meszaros, Properties Assistant

“I have known many people who fought cancer, but the one person whose struggle impacted me most was my best friend, Meghan. From ages 21-23 she battled with two forms of cancer, and her journey greatly influenced me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young person accept their fate with such grace and strength as she did… I have not worked intricately with the script of A Funny Thing… but I do know that going through that experience of my best friend’s struggle and death has shaped the way I react to art. I cry more easily with heartfelt stories, especially those of a medical or illness-related nature. I can sympathize a bit more with people going through difficult situations.”

Clare Drobot, Director of New Play Development

“Table work for A Funny Thing… sort of caught me by surprise. My grandmother died of cancer when I was 17. It all happened very quickly; she was diagnosed in September and passed by December. It was one of my first real experiences with seeing death and caregiving up close. I remember driving home from rehearsal one night and feeling a little overwhelmed with all these memories. What it was like to go through that and not knowing how to be there for my parents at the time (or how to process what was happening myself). It really helped me to understand Karla’s character and appreciate how nuanced Halley’s portrayal of her journey and relationship to Marcie is.”

James McNeel, Managing Director

“During this production process, I keep harkening back that this play, and these characters, are given the much-needed voice of those that endure the disease. I salute Halley Feiffer for taking her own personal experience and making it universal. And, ironically, she has taken a singular word experience – cancer – and blown it up with a 22-word title. Those who are diagnosed, or have loved ones who are, deserve more than two syllables. Their journey needs to be told. And this is an example of that. With jokes. Because laughter can really be the best medicine.”


See A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City at City Theatre now through Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. Tickets are available here!