“BEYOND THERAPY” OPENS WESTPORT PLAYHOUSE SEASON
by Tom Holehan
The years have treated “Beyond Therapy” fairly well. Christopher Durang’s adult comedy from the early 1980s with its naughty words and enlightened (though absurd) gay sensibility seems fairly old hat by now, but that isn’t stopping the capacity crowd at the Westport Country Playhouse from thoroughly enjoying themselves. The comedy is the opening production of the Playhouse’s 80th anniversary season.
Lonely singles Bruce and Prudence have a disastrous blind date mostly because Bruce can’t stop crying or talking about his male lover, Bob. The baffled Prudence responds that men should never cry – “unless something falls on them” – and her favorite song is “Someone to Watch Over Me”. Somehow the couple stumbles into a second date but only after we’ve met their respective therapists, a pair of lunatics who could each clearly use their own session on a couch. It isn’t long before lover Bob enters the scene and he is naturally distraught over his boyfriend’s recent dating activities.
Durang, the author of the scandalous (and still potent) “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You” and the recent off-Broadway hit “Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them”, has a quirky, off-kilter way with words and character development and most of “Beyond Therapy” plays like an Americanized Parisian farce (indeed, the disastrous film version of the play was set in Paris). Only Durang, for example, could manage to wedge in references to David Berkowitz, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, Plato’s Retreat and an obscure Sondheim song from “Pacific Overtures” in the same play.
In Westport, director David Kennedy has wisely cast Nicole Lowrance in the central role of Prudence. Ms. Lowrance understands that the audience needs Prudence to guide them through the insanity, to be the voice of reason amidst all the delirium. To this end, Lowrance is warm, funny, infinitely patient and sympathetic even when she pulls a gun late in the play. Jeremy Peter Johnson’s Bruce overdoes the facial expressions at times, but he enjoys an easy chemistry with Lowrance that goes a long way towards believing his intentions.
Trent Dawson is a stand-out as Prudence’s overly macho therapist with huge insecurities of his own. Blessed with boundless energy, Dawson’s impeccable timing and comic delivery leaves one breathless. As Bruce’s nutty psychiatrist with a penchant for hugging a Snoopy doll and barking praise at her patients, Kathleen McNenny garners plenty of laughs even when you see her working a tad too hard. Stephen Wallem’s Bob is ultimately too sullen and threatening to make us understand why Bruce would still be with him.
The climax of the comedy - when all the characters are brought together at a restaurant - becomes a bit wearying as this type of farce can; but the fun getting there more than makes up for this minor slump. Lee Savage’s rotating settings with their day-glo walls and perfectly appointed pop-art is nicely in tune with Durang’s merry madness and costumer Jennifer Caprio has some fun with the 1980s clothing. All told, “Beyond Therapy” is slick and funny enough to overcome its shortcomings.
“Beyond Therapy” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through May 14. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.