That’s what Sick Puppy Aniela McGuinness said right before showing us what cancer looks like. In her brave, original, one woman show “I Don’t Have Cancer”, McGuinness gives us multiple levels of her recent relationship with cancer.
She opens the show as Cancer. Cancer has a Brooklyn accent and can’t understand why nobody likes him. He’s that creepy guy in the bar that won’t stop groping you. He brags about how he gave it a go with McGuinness’ mother. She shook him once but the second time around he got her. We laughed. Why the hell were we laughing at cancer? He made a few good points. I mean, he made cancer look like a stalker. Why the hell were we laughing at this? He walks out “There’s always your daughter.”
The show flashes to real moments in Aniela’s journey as a screen shows a video of Aniela receiving the news. It was how most people found out McGuinness had cancer. I sat in the theatre Saturday night next to my wife and cried as most everyone else did. The irony of finding out you have cancer 3 days before you were supposed to be removing your breasts anyway as a preventative procedure is just heart breaking.
The show cuts to Aniela back on stage replaying what happens right after the call. She plays her neighbors, herself and Jordan, her husband. She opens the top of the scene with over the top panicking. Now different from the sobbing we had just seen. The theme through this is the neighbor (Joe?) completely unsure how to handle the situation, but the sweetness shows as he drinks before every move. It’s clear that Aniela is surrounded by love and warmth, even when they don’t know quite what to do. Also, McGuinness does a mean impression of Jordan. Watching this on a stage was surreal for me as Aniela called me shortly after that moment. “You’re going to need to get a different teacher tonight. I have cancer.” I remember saying “I’m coming over.” She said “I’m at my neighbor’s house. My neighbor told Jordan. Also, they served me scotch. So I’m okay.”
She walks off stage. The next couple of scenes take us into a different reality. The inside of Aniela’s head. She plays the different steps of grief as actual characters where acceptance takes control because it’s the one that make’s her seem “enlightened and strong.” Anger takes hold, puts acceptance on the ground and holds depression and denial hostage. It works. Bargaining never shows up. In that scene. Instead, we get to see a captivating scene where cancer forces her to contract to give up her “titties” as Aniela says. I’d have to say I felt angry after seeing that particular scene.
The underlying theme throughout the show is that cancer has nothing to do with Aniela’s struggle. Cancer is not something for her to be angry at. Cancer is a thing looking for a home and McGuinness is declining the invitation to host as bluntly as possible. She’s using this show as her therapy. To play all sides of the dice. To see from every perspective. To boldly show us that cancer is not something be afraid of, but something to adjust for if it affects your life.
To see more videos regarding her journey, check here.
The room was moved, inspired and stood up 3 times in ovation. Aniela McGuinness and Tony Rivera have assembled a real winner here. I’m excited to help them put it up on stage at Center Stage in the near future. Stay Tuned.