Heartfelt and well-intentioned though it certainly seems, “This is Not a Cure for Cancer” is not an engaging or artful piece of theater. That is not to say it is without craft nor lacking in artifice; throughout the performance, video projections, props and costume changes shift the setting and the emotional tone—in a direct, unsubtle but efficient manner. The more-than-capable large supporting cast is more than game in ensemble moments as brain cells and cancer cells and even enjoyable in individual turns as health care practitioners and game-show hosts. The disparate scenes provide cursory introductions to facets of the disease and controversies over varying treatment options.
Collaboraction artistic director and co-writer Anthony Moseley explains that this show is “not a play” but rather “an interactive, experiential, live art installation.” It does succeed in providing an overview to primary issues facing cancer victims and their loved ones. But this boisterous production, presented as a tribute to Moseley’s late father and written in collaboration with Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman, is too perfunctory in its approach to reach its stated aims of exposing the “cancer industry” and a little too gimmicky in its presentation to achieve its lofty purpose of exploring the “meaning of life.”
From the onset the show gives the impression of a well-funded community access cable TV show, a feeling that provides some charm. There is no building of dramatic tension—the show is segmented into bits and any flow is frequently interrupted by a largely unnecessary framing device in which Moseley sounds out the reasoning behind and the making of the show while visiting his dentist. These traits situate the show more as a surface presentation on a topic than a deep investigation into its reality. As the show points out, a horrifyingly high percentage of the human race is affected by the disease. This event is best suited for those affected who are looking to approach the subject and generate conversation.
I imagine if the production could travel to treatment centers, hospitals, etc, it might do a world of good by spurring such discussions—largely through its “fun” and active approach to the topic—helping an audience of patients, caregivers and loved ones open up. Much of the content and many of the tactics employed seem perfectly geared for a strong children’s show about this serious subject. Many local health care and cancer support organizations are listed as community partners for this production and post-show town hall discussions co-hosted by these partners are set to take place after each upcoming performance. This did not occur the night I attended, but it is likely a very valuable aspect of the show’s laudable goal of helping those affected by this killer.
If you’re looking to be fully immersed in the promised “live art” you’ll not find much fresh or insightful in “This is Not a Cure for Cancer.” If you or those close to you are plagued by an inability to broach the delicate topic of a potentially terminal illness, then this show may offer a needed remedy after all. (Raymond Rehayem)
Collaboraction, 1579 North Milwaukee, (312)226-9633, collaboraction.org. $30. Through March 30.