I know what you’re thinking: It’s been gray and miserable outside for the last three weeks—minus that teaser day of sunshine on Saturday—and the last thing you want to do is go to a play about cancer…the disease. Not the astrological sign. Especially once you find out there ain’t no music in this musical.
But hear me out: The new solo show by Montana von Fliss at Washington Ensemble Theatre is heartwarming, funny—an Irish wake kind of good time. Over 90 minutes, von Fliss tackles an intensely personal subject—caring for her father as he slowly died from liver cancer—and tries to measure Loss (with a capital L) using the scientific method. In lesser hands, the conceit would be charmless, all one-liners and squirm-inducing moments when you know someone hasn’t quite gotten over their pain and are making bad jokes to compensate. (I like to call this Catholic grief.)
But the jokes aren’t bad—this is, after all, Montana von Fliss at the helm as writer, director, and star. With wide eyes and a wicked smile, she switches nicely between a deadpan "grief and loss scientistician" and a daughter in mourning, meek and cross-legged, recounting a devastating story about her father’s final day. It’s hard to tell where the acting stops and the group therapy session begins, but that rawness lends an authenticity to the show that would be hard to match otherwise.
Cancer: The Musical runs through June 21 at Washington Ensemble Theatre.