Dezart Performs continues its solid line-up of productions with Halley Feiffer’s dark comedy, ”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City.”  It is often said that comedy is a close relative to pain.  Without the latter, the former could not exist.  Though I don’t believe that to be a universal truth, it is most definitely so in director Randy Brenner’s production of this moving yet laugh-out-loud play.

The play is set in a 2-patient room at Sloan Kettering, realistically created by Jimmy Cuomo’s excellent set design and perfectly complimented by Phil Murphy’s lighting design.  The plot revolves around 2 women, Marcie (Deborah Harmon) and Geena (Barbara Niles), sharing a hospital room while being treated for ovarian cancer and their adult children, Karla (Aviva Pressman) and Don (Eric Zak) respectively.  Karla is a loud, brassy, in-your-face comedienne and writer.  Despite the fact that her mother is sleeping (comatose?), Karla is loudly trying out some ideas for her routine; the play begins with her saying “I’ve been single for so long, I’ve started having sexual fantasies about my vibrator.” She shows no concern for Geena, who is on the other side of the curtain which separates the room’s two beds.  That is until Don arrives.  He is dressed like someone who is homeless but is, we soon learn, a self-made multi-millionaire. Like a tea pot building up steam, we watch him react to the strongly ‘blue’ verbalizations coming from the other side of the curtain.  And like that kettle when it reaches full boil, he finally releases his own steaming tirade of protest.  In other words, the perfect Rom-Com first meeting, and indeed, a relationship soon develops between Karla and Don.  This results in one of the most politically incorrect yet hysterical scenes I have ever seen onstage.  As this 90 minute, intermission-less play unfolds, we get to know the pain that Karla’s comedy is hiding, the mess of a life that is Don’s, and how one can take actions out of love that can be completely misread, causing scars of resentment and anger that can alter the entire path of one’s life.

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The four cast members all give brilliant performances.  As Geena, Barbara Niles has the least to do but when she does come out of her comatose state, she delivers one of the play’s funniest moments. Deborah Harmon gives another strong performance as Marcie who, when all is said and done, was always just trying to be a good mother.  Eric Zak imbues Don with such warmth that when its his turn to unload his troubles, instead of feeling like saying “it’s your own fault,” you want to give him a great big hug and say “there, there” instead.  Aviva Pressman’s Karla is the person you most dread to find sitting next to you in an airplane.  But she allows her inner hurt to bleed through her explitive-laden defensive outer shell.  This makes her someone we care about and want to see be happy instead of a person we just want to go away!  She has great comic timing and lands all her laughs before turning into a wounded child in the very next moment.

Randy Brenner’s direction never lets the pace sag.  These are all New Yorkers and are given long tirades and monologues which could easily interrupt the show’s momentum but never do.  He let’s his characters prove that under the darkest of situations, laughter is the best medicine!  

Just as a word of caution, this play has no lack of verbal obscenities and sexual situations, so it is not advise to bring children or anyone who is easily offended by such language.

The play runs through March 12, 2023 at The Pearl McManus Theatre in downtown Palm Springs.  For tickets or further information visit their website at