How My Mother Died Of Cancer, And Other Bedtime Stories
nytheatre.com review by Roger Nasser
August 14, 2010
"Laughter is the best chemo." That seems to be the motto of How My Mother Died Of Cancer, And Other Bedtime Stories, the play written by Chris Kelly that deals with a family's ordeal with the Big C. There are many levels to How My Mother Died Of Cancer, And Other Bedtime Stories. First, there is a play-within-the-play, which feels like a dramatization, which I guess it was: the actors onstage are the "real" characters of the story with the exception of the actress playing Mom. Second, there is in the middle of this sometimes over-the-top (but in a good way ) comedy a family drama about a father and daughter dealing with loss and the strain that it is putting on their relationship. The most important level, though, is that this is a play celebrating a man's memory of his mother.
How My Mother Died Of Cancer, And Other Bedtime Stories is very funny at times. The energy during the opening of the show is great and it continues throughout the show. The cast for the most part is remarkable. As a company they are like a well-oiled machine and bring the right amounts of humor and pathos. Elizabeth Romanski is terrific as the daughter, Kate, whose emotional journey we are going on. Romanski is a very charismatic performer. Josh Hemphill and Brianna Tyson are standouts as Kate's best friends Trent and Lena, respectively. Hemphill and Tyson are also good foils for each other, also—especially when Hemphill wants to play Tyson's character in a scene. Sharon Wyse is both hysterical and poignant as Mom—or rather, the actress hired to play Mom. Wyse handles the over-the-top comedic moments and the really touching ones effortlessly. Mike Boland is magnificent as Dad. Boland's portrayal of Dad is really moving, especially in the scene that he has with Wyse. He brings a grounding presence to the show. Boland and Romanski also have great chemistry with one another. The tension between these two characters (Kate and Dad) is probably the driving force of the show. I also really enjoyed the scenes where Mom tells bedtime stories to her kids. The actors have a great rapport with each other. Laura Moss has done an admirable job directing the show and giving it a nice pace.
I did have one problem with the show though. There seems to be too much emphasis on theatricality. There are too many moments of pontification where the actors were discussing what to do next or saying "let's just do the scene." These moments broke the momentum of the show for me. I understand that some are necessary—especially Dad's objections to being part of the show—but they often took me out of the play.
That being said, though, How My Mother Died Of Cancer, And Other Bedtime Stories is a very touching show. There is a lot of humanity in it with equal parts of silliness, but you can tell that there is a lot of love there.