‘Jonna’s Body’ bumps cancer from center stage

LIHU‘E — All the world’s a stage, and cancer is merely a player. At least, that’s what Jonna Tomes proves in her one-woman show, “Jonna’s Body, Please Hold.”

The dark comedy, which was nominated for two Los Angeles Ovation Awards, makes its Hawai‘i debut 7:30 p.m. today at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lihu‘e with an encore performance 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Church of the Pacific in Princeville.

In “Jonna’s Body,” audience members enter the tumultuous world that is in her body. They meet Pearl, a sassy switchboard operator, who fields a never-ending barrage of phone calls from Tomases’’ body parts.

“Jonna’s Body, where we put the hell in healthy,” she chirps on the phone.

There’s a suffocated Baby Toe who is crammed in too-tight of a shoe, a knotted Upper Back who is begging for a yoga class and the bumbling Uta and Ula who are begging to be released from their brassiere imprisonment.

When two foreign, cancerous invaders begin to erode her body’s existence, it’s up to Tomases to rally her body’s troops to fight against the villains.

While cancer usually isn’t the butt of a joke, the former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown felt it was only natural to take her experience with cancer and make it comedic.

“I found that an experience like cancer is very overwhelming and surreal,” Tomases said. “It’s outside of our hopes, dreams and plans for our lives. In a way, there’s something quite hilarious about it, only because that’s the reaction to something so surreal and traumatic.”

The Los Angeles comedian began writing “Jonna’s Body” in 1994 based on her experiences with cancer in the late 1980s.

At the age of 19, Tomases was diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She underwent chemotherapy treatment, but the cancer returned a year later.

“It was pretty devastating, because I really felt I sailed through it and that was that,” Tomases said. “I was depressed, and I was very angry. I just felt that it shouldn’t be happening to me. How dare it happen to me.”

After another round of chemotherapy treatment, Tomases was cancer-free, until she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33.

“By the third time, I knew I caught it early,” she said. “At that point, I was kind of calm and relaxed about the whole thing. I was used to having my body altered because of the treatment.”

Now cancer-free, Tomases wrote “Jonna’s Body” as a way to take charge of the disease and show others the fullness life has to offer.

“I just try and remind people it’s important to allow the full range of your emotions to show through,” Tomases said. “I don’t think it’s wise to deny some of the darker emotions. There will be days when you will be depressed, sad, angry and in despair, and that’s fine. There’s room for it all.”

Tomes has toured with the current version of her show for the past 10 years. In 2007, a film of the same title was released starring Tomases, which won six national film festival awards.

“My heart really lies with live performing. There’s something so magical about bonding with the audience,” she said. “I love doing character voices. I love monkeying around on stage. I throw new lines on stage. To me, it feels very fresh and just plain fun. In the moment, I’m getting to express myself artistically the way that I love.”

“Jonna’s Body, Please Hold” is presented by L&L Island Productions. The show is child friendly, but it deals with serious issues.

See “Jonna’s Body, Please Hold” 7:30 p.m. today at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lihu‘e and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Church of the Pacific in Princeville.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Tickets are available at Papayas in Kapa‘a, Hanalei Surf in Hanalei and Healthy Hut in Kilauea. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com to purchase tickets online.

• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.

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