By Christopher Durang
Directed by Amy Cabranes
At the Winthrop House JCR
Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m.
If you've ever suspected that psychiatrists might be crazier than the patients they treat, then Beyond Therapy will provide you with plenty of ammunition. This jab at relationships in the 1970s succeeds in ridiculing many of the facades that men and women erect in their dealings, with each other, and it gleefully satirizes the practice of psychotherapy, revealing that the advice which "troubled" patients accept without question often comes from people whose own personal problems make their judgment suspect.
Unfortunately, playwright Christopher Durang seems convinced that the audience will not understand his message unless it is beaten into them, and his script frequently employs a baseball bat where a fly-swatter would do. The result is a production which, while entertaining, is pretentious and overblown.
Bruce (Pier Carlo Talenti) has a problem. His relationship with his gay lover, Bob (Andres Irlando), isn't satisfying, so he places a personal ad in the hopes of meeting a nice female companion. Prudence (Patricia Goldman) answers the ad, but becomes a bit disconcerted when Bruce openly admires her breasts, announces that he is bisexual and cries at the first sign of rejection. The initial encounter ends badly, and both rush to their analysts in an effort to find out what went wrong.
Unfortunately, all Doctor Stuart Framingham (Anthony Korotko Hatch) wants to do is sleep with Prudence, and Mrs. Charlotte Wallace (Magda Hernandez), Bruce's analyst, is too busy searching for cookies to listen to his problems. Bruce runs to Prudence, Prudence runs from Bob, Charlotte runs after both of them, and everyone runs from Dr. Framingham. It's all in vain, however; the characters are doomed to meet up in the same "existential restaurant" in which Bruce and Prudence had their first encounter.
There is no shortage of humorous moments in Beyond Therapy, and when Durang's script finds an appropriate target the result is hillarious. His comments on masculinity are particularly witty; Bruce and Dr. Framingham obsessively display their chest hairs, and Prudence responds to one of Bruce's breakdowns by saying, "I don't think that men should cry unless something falls on them."
Durang pokes fun at the hectic pace of American life by having Dr. Framingham insist, "Our society is fastpaced, so I have fast ejaculations," and he demonstrates the falseness of modern relationships by having Bruce and his analyst invent a personal ad "guaranteed" to attract women.
However, these insightful incidents are swamped by scenes in which Durang's dialogue is overstated and preachy. Too many lines seem to exist independently from the characters who deliver them, and when Prudence spouts, "I don't want any more therapy. I want tennis lessons," she doesn't seem to believe this, herself. Virtually every sentence in this play is declarative, and when characters are forced to say such lines as, "Please don't say pretentious things; I get a rash," it's as if the audience is listening to a speech rather then watching a play.
The actors do a capable job with the material they have: Talenti manages to be both wimpering and endearing, and Goldman falls to pieces well, tugging at her hair and fidgeting in her seat as she tries to escape the lunacy around her.
But director Amy Cabranes accepts Durang's heavy-handed script much too readily, and rather than toning down the rhetoric, Cabranes has the actors hype the play's already overblown elements. Hernandez's bubble-blowing, Snoopy-wielding analyst comes off well the first time, but a constant repetition of the same sight gags and crazy word substitutions (Hernandez says "porpoise" when she means "patient" at least six times) rapidly becomes unconvincing. Some subtlety would have been nice; we don't need to see Hernandez in a pink nightgown with a teddy to know that her behavior is childish.
Cullen Gerst's "just-the-facts" cameo as a gay waiter is refreshing because it contrasts so sharply with the rest of the performances. At one point Bruce exclaims, "Mrs. Wallace could give me lithium, she could give you speed; we could meet somewhere in the middle." I wish this production had learned some-thing from that.