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Survivor brings on laughs in ‘Having Cancer Is Hilarious’

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Megan Timpane describes her battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the amusing “Having Cancer is Hilarious.” (Courtesy Lily Moser)

As advertised, Megan Timpane’s one-woman show “Having Cancer is Hilarious” isn’t a downer.

Telling her story of being diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 22, then undergoing six months of treatment, the University of California, Los Angeles acting major keeps the laughs coming throughout her jam-packed performance.

Now 23, the animated San Francisco born-and-bred actress instructs folks in the audience (likely touched by cancer, too, she acknowledges at the outset) at The Marsh to take themselves outside if they want to cry during what may be an emotional piece.

It’s funny, as are her excellent impressions of people (family, old and new friends, medical workers) she encounters as she completes her journey.

She really becomes her frog-like dad; bird-loving mom; the feisty clerk doing intake in the hospital oncology department; the sadistic shot-giving nurse; and her doctor, who calmly answers all of her health questions with the same unhelpful comment, “I think it’s just the chemo.”

As a class project, some elementary students in Salinas, practicing the vocabulary words perseverance, courage and resiliency, write letters to cheer her up, which she acts out, adorably.

Yet while Tempane is filled with spirit and fun to watch – her theater training is evident from her confident voice projection — “Having Cancer,” at nearly 90 minutes, is a touch too long, sprawling and unfocused — and ultimately doesn’t resonate as much as it could.

Some of her many asides are well done (the sassy Asian salon worker who does her nails, doctors talking on the phone about patients in the hospital stairwell), but don’t really add much to the story at hand.

And some important details – such as what happened just before she was taken to the emergency room, the event that led to the diagnosis, which seemingly came out of nowhere – are left out.

Interestingly, Tempane is more effective as other people than as herself. She tells about, rather than shows, her own emotions in what sometimes feels like a grab-bag standup comedy routine.

Tempane indeed identifies the “hilarious” part of having cancer, but her show about her life-changing, happily-ending ordeal might be more satisfying if she tightened up the script (which she wrote, and developed with assistance from one-man show veteran Don Reed) and offered a few specific examples about the sad and scary parts of facing her own mortality at such a tender age.

REVIEW
Having Cancer Is Hilarious
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; closes Nov. 28
Tickets: $15 to $100
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

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