By Roz Friedman
ILife is full of risk; it is meant to be lived to the fullest, no matter how difficult.
The most meaningful lines in Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy are spoken at the very end by Charlotte, the ditzy therapist, who can’t find the right words and calls her patients “Porpoises;” acted by Kathleen McNenny with free-flung humor, Charlotte compares life to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, and reminds us that his seemingly tragic play is listed by its author as a comedy.
Durang wrote this off-beat comedy in the 1980’s, and the trick is to let yourself be drawn into the absurdity. Then, the laughs just fly. It does seem like yesterday that everyone was talking about their shrinks. Even Tony Soprano had one. Here, two therapists are treating two different people and they are not really helping them. Lonely Prudence, played with depth of understanding and a good comic touch by Nicole Lawrence, has already had a mini-affair with her avaricious doctor, Stuart (Trent Dawson), and wants to get out of his clutches. Bruce, the appealing Jeremy Peter Johnson, whom we enjoyed so much as the lead in She Loves Me, has been counseled by his doctor, Charlotte, to express himself. However, she is so out of it, she doesn’t know that he is living with a man—Bob; Stephen Wallem, a big guy, is solid as a mama’s boy, who is naturally jealous of Prudence and angry with Bruce.
When Prudence and Bruce meet in a restaurant through a newspaper ad, each one has problems. Bruce announces immediately that he is bi-sexual, which of course throws Prudence for a loop. She’s looking for a traditional relationship, and this adds to a long unsuccessful list of failures. Bruce’s crying fits repel her. However, she is also sympathetic. Bruce wants children and some part of a heterosexual life. The first date does not work; Bruce, with the help of his therapist, Charlotte, fakes an ad that brings Prudence back to the table in the same restaurant. This time they relate a little more, and Prudence agrees to go to Bruce’s apartment for dinner. It is a disaster with Bob glowering and his mother calling in to castigate. Shades of God of Carnage.
There’s a running joke about the waiter and the lack thereof, which brings in NickGehlfuss, who does a nice job as Andrew. Directed by David Kennedy, the actors move briskly on Lee Savage’s mid-century modern set, lit well by Jeff Croiter It is. punctuated by Modrian-like paintings-- and a portrait of Liz Taylor by Andy Warhol, a nice tribute to the late actress. Jennifer Caprio’s costumes for Charlotte are imaginative.
There are many references to icons long gone, like Cary Grant and Betsey Drake; this may be a little dated, but we all still need a little Snoopy and silliness in our lives. Beyond Therapy will make you forget all bad news at least for one hour and 45 minutes without intermission. At the Westport Country Playhouse.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO