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It Only Hurts When I Laugh: “Pirates of the Chemotherapy” Earns a Hearty “Argh!”

The Roxboro Little Theater performed Paul Schutte's "Pirates of the Chemotherapy" on March 22-24 at the Kirby Theater

The Roxboro Little Theater performed Paul Schutte’s “Pirates of the Chemotherapy” on March 22-24 at the Kirby Theater

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click To read more of her writings, click and

Anyone who’s had a mammogram can understand why Judith (Tina Powell Kennedy), one of the lead characters in Paul Schutte’s Pirates of the Chemotherapy, puts off having the test until it’s too late. That all-too-common reality was only one of many reality checks brought to the stage in the performance by the Roxboro Little Theater, under the direction of Pam Barth, on March 22-24 at the Kirby Cultural Arts Center in Roxboro, NC.

A metaphor for the ways in which pirates and breast cancer survivors share both their missing “parts” and their strengths, the dramatic comedy celebrates how both are challenged by life’s adversities and choose to fight, even when the only thing they have left is their will to survive. With six local women in the leads, this simple production launches itself into the hearts of the audience, most of whom can name a relative or friend who has taken on the breast cancer battle. The stories each of the six characters in the play tell resonate with both the female and male members of the audience. Judith’s reluctance to have a mammogram evokes knowing nods from the women, whereas Doris’ (Maggie Bonafair) blatant sexuality arouses guffaws from both males and females alike.

Playwright Paul Schutte’s delicate balance between characterization and caricature is deftly handled by the play’s director. Pam Barth, an actress herself, has coached her actresses to embody their personas with both understanding and understatement. For example, though Doris’ brassiness can tend to be over the top, she tempers it with empathy for twenty-something Peace (Madeline Phillips), who claims to be the reincarnated grandmother of Marilyn Monroe.

Jan Kerr’s character Nancy, the motherly founder of the group, takes no guff from Doris (often telling her “Shut up, Doris”); but Nancy is a traditional woman whose support for the group goes so far that she covers her own already-growing hair in order to maintain solidarity with the other women. Winnie, played by Karla A. Mitchell, battles her cancer the same way she battled her cocaine addiction: with a tough urban spirit and a wry sense of humor. Though each of the woman has her own battles, they all pull together for Karen (Kim Demetriades) when her husband takes everything she has and leaves.

When Winnie suggests that the women battle their disease in a humorous, strong manner reminiscent of the way handless/eyeless pirates battled their enemies, the relationships between the women strengthen and the comedic aspects of the play take over. Throughout the stories spun by the cohort of women who have come together in a breast cancer support group, dramatist Paul Schutte also underlines the unique ways in which cancer attacks each person whose body it invades, as well as the inimitable differences of the people themselves. This is a story about strength and perseverance in the face of practically devastating odds. It is also the story of the power of women when they bond through laughter and adversity. Many studies have shown that laughter is the best medicine; and by offering this production, the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex also succeeds in delivering a powerful show that has made a difference in donating its proceeds to the Relay for Life for Cancer Research.

The Kirby Cultural Arts Center performance season will end this season’s performance series with Sweet Potato Pie with the Church Sisters, a night of bluegrass performances delivered by “sweetgrass” female voices at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 13th.

PIRATES OF THE CHEMOTHERAPY (Roxboro Little Theater, March 22-24 at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC).




Pirates of the Chemotherapy (background): (official website) and (Facebook page).


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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Reviews