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‘Pirates of the Chemotherapy’ captures emotions and realities of women fighting breast cancer

Updated: Feb 23, 2019

By FRANK O'DONNELL, Valley Breeze Entertainment Writer

Members of the cast of “Pirates of Chemotherapy” are , from left, Lisa Forsgard, Jenniffer Vaughn, Kim Alessandro, Barbara Crowell, Kimberlyn Roche, Heather Carey.

Kim Alessandro suggested the script for “Pirates of the Chemotherapy” to her friend, Beverly Darling.

“It was right after we’d spent a year going through Kim’s breast cancer,” said Darling. “She said, ‘You haven’t directed a grown-up play in a while, you need to read this.’”

Darling, who’d been working on a number of children’s shows, remembers her first reaction after reading the script. “I need to direct this play, and I need to do it now.”

“Pirates of the Chemotherapy” focuses on the lives of six women in a breast cancer support group. “The play is brilliant,” says Darling, at capturing the emotions and realities of chemotherapy. “Each character goes to different places. It focuses on chemo, and the girls who’ve been through it say it’s spot on.”

Alessandro, one of the actresses Darling cast in the show, agrees. “When I first got the script, I got about 10 pages in, and I had to put it down for a while.” That’s how real it was to her. “The first read-throughs were tough. There were lots of spots where it gets stuck in your throat.”

She plays Winnie. “I’m pretty much playing me. Winnie’s very brash, opinionated, grounded, she doesn’t mince her words. She is me, with a better bank account, apparently. Her cancer experience is different than mine. But her attitude is my attitude.”

Alessandro was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. She went through chemo, radiation and two lumpectomies. “They don’t say remission anymore. I’m N.E.D. – no evidence of disease.” She sees her oncologist twice a year now, and has a yearly mammogram.

Darling brought the play to Attleboro Community Theatre, but they already had their next two seasons planned out. “I brought it to the deacon board at my church, and they said wow, absolutely, how can we help you?”

The Memorial Baptist Church in Seekonk has offered up its space. “They even bought theater lights and a sound board for me.” Because the church is not charging for the venue, 100 percent of the proceeds from the show will be donated to the Gloria Gemma Foundation.

Lisa Forsgard also had a breast cancer scare. “Beverly called me because she remembered I’d been in the middle of a play with her when I was diagnosed.” A routine examination turned up some irregular cells, leading to a lumpectomy at Dana Farber is Boston. That was in 2010.

“I’m playing the one whose husband takes the money and runs. I’m playing the meek and mild character, which is a real stretch for me.”

She agrees that the play is on target. “The first read-throughs were tough. It brings it all up again.” When some friends put on the play locally a few years ago, it was so real, she was unable to see it.

Darling has been in touch with the playwright, Paul Schutte. “He’s a rocket scientist at NASA,” says Darling. “He had a friend with breast cancer. She was wearing a bandanna and hoop earrings, and she said, ‘Wow, she looks like a pirate. She’s very brave. She is a pirate.’” From that, the play was born.

Alessandro praises the author’s insight. “There’s a line in the play. ‘Our life took a permanent detour.’ Truer words were never said. You have to take it as an experience, and grow from it.” For Alessandro, that’s the play’s message. “Even after everything, there’s still growth that can happen.”

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