"Therapy" a Little Tired
By Geary Danihy
Cheese and red wine benefit from aging. Alas, many plays do not, and Beyond Therapy, which recently opened at the Westport Country Playhouse, is no exception. This sometimes frantic paean to the shallower side of the 80s by Christophe Durang aspires to be a screwball comedy but ends up being little more than an extended sitcom episode.
One thing the play does do successfully is remind us just how far we have come in 30 years with regard to portrayal of, among other things, homosexuality on stage. There’s a certain giddy naughtiness to Durang’s writing as he offers us Bruce (Jeremy Peter Johnson), a bi-sexual who lives with his boyfriend Bob (Stephen Wallem) but, at the urgings of this therapist, Charlotte (Kathleen McNenny) is searching for the right woman to bring some stability to his life. He places a personal ad in the papers and, as the play opens, has arrived at The Restaurant to meet the lady who has responded.
Enter Prudence (Nicole Lowrance), a writer for People magazine who is also in therapy. What follows in this opening scene stretches credulity: Bruce immediately compliments Prudence on her breasts, talks openly about his relationship with Bob and admits to a penchant for crying, which he does on cue. And Prudence stays. Of course, if she exercised the good sense to get as far away as possible from this burden of baggage there wouldn’t be a play.
We are next treated to Prudence and Bruce in sessions with their therapists. Again, we’re asked to follow Plato’s dictate to suspend our disbelief, but it’s awfully hard, for you see Prudence’s therapist, Stuart (Trent Dawson), is that delightful contradiction best described as a misogynistic lothario who has a problem with premature ejaculation. Prudence slept with him after their second session but continues to seek his help and advice. Go figure.
Bruce’s therapist has her own problems, most of them with words – she asks her receptionist to send in the next “porpoise.” She also conducts her sessions while clutching a Snoopy doll and occasionally barking to show her approval of her patients’ progress.
The problem is that for this sort of thing to work you have to start with characters that are reasonably believable. Think of the memorable screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s: His Girl Friday; Bringing Up Baby. The Philadelphia Story. They all worked because you had “normal” people thrust unwillingly or unwittingly into bizarre situations. Here we have unbelievable characters that are “written” funny; hence, the humor is often strained.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some bright moments under David Kennedy’s nicely paced direction, chief among them Prudence’s visit to Bruce’s apartment for dinner. Bob is supposed to be at his mother’s, but he’s home and the confrontation between Prudence and Bob as Bruce fields phone calls from Bob’s mother is the high point of the evening.
Equally entertaining is the final visit to The Restaurant, where all the characters gather to flaunt their respective neuroses and idiosyncrasies, and it is here that Lowrance, who has done yeoman’s work throughout the evening, really shines. Setting believability aside for a moment, it’s a delight to watch her Prudence, who has had just about enough, go ballistic. A meal has never been ordered with such fervor and desperation.
All in all, Beyond Therapy, what with all of its now non-topical references and small-screen sitcom characters, is a pleasant enough diversion better enjoyed with your slippered feet up on a hassock, a bowl of potato chips in your lap, the libation of your choice at your side and your TV remote in your hand, just in case you want to switch channels to watch The Love Boat or The Dukes of Hazzard.
Beyond Therapy runs through Saturday, May 14. For tickets or more information, call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org.