Opening Nights: Cancer: the Musical

At WET, a new show’s possibilities remain tantalizing.

If this original one-act were available now as a DVD on Amazon, you'd likely find user reviews all over the map. Is it revealing, heart-wrenching, and daring? Yes. Is it self-indulgent and occasionally too precious for its own good? Also yes. Montana von Fliss' solo performance meanders from tongue-in-cheek responses to that fateful diagnosis (the example here being her late father), to outrage and helplessness, before concluding with something akin to a group hug. But guess what? All of those mirror the myriad emotions that cancer survivors, and relatives of those who don't survive, go through. Your response to this show will depend largely on whether you or someone you know has had to face mortality recently, and your ability to greet your own demise with a wan smile. From the outset, von Fliss seems to know this, so she wends her way into the story with a wink and nudge, proposing to measure L-O-S-S (the loss of a loved one, she explains, as opposed to the lower-case loss of some trinket of value) by scientific means. Von Fliss is no oncologist, but she's shrewd enough to know that you can't deal with something this weighty without first winning the audience over with a few clever gags. That accomplished, she begins to spin one yarn after another about Dad: what a chum he was, the composure with which he received his diagnosis, and the grace and good cheer with which he faced his final weeks. Once we're invested in their relationship, she begins the real work: describing his fear at the end, her own courage in sending him off, and the inconsolable sorrow and rage that inevitably follow.That's actually where Cancer: The Musical offers a few songs. They're little sonic sketches, really—some with an indie edge, others cut more from emo cloth, but all simply extensions of grief and its multifaceted aftermath. Von Fliss isn't going to put any musicians out of work with her tunes, but then again, there hasn't been a music video that's reached this deeply into pathos since R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts."Director John Osebold provides an open and accessible space for the show to breathe. A piece like this works best with few boundaries between the performer and the audience, and, accordingly, the interactions are as warm and unforced as a kaffeeklatsch. Osebold's staging is also deft enough to make von Fliss' acrobatic leaps from comedy to rage appear altogether organic—and that's quite a feat, considering how quickly this 90-minute show moves.There's still enough of a workshop veneer to this show to let you know von Fliss ison to something, but that something hasn't completely jelled yet. What it would be without her, or what it will be when she's finished it, remains uncertain. But in the hands of WET, the possibilities remain tantalizing.

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