A Relatively Harmless "Therapy"

by David A. Rosenberg

Remember Plato’s Retreat, that den of iniquity for swinging couples? How about Gary Gilmore? “An Unmarried Woman”? Betty Friedan? Joyce De Witt and “Three’s Company”? “Pacific Overtures”? “Sunday Bloody Sunday”? “Tora Tora Tora”?

If the references don’t throw you, welcome to “Beyond Therapy,” Christopher Durang’s madcap comedy, the opening gun in Westport Country Playhouse’s season. This intermittently amusing, dated work by one of our more antic playwrights doesn’t exactly rock with laughter but does offer a relatively harmless 90 minutes.

Despite a few heavy-duty curse words, probably meant to shock, the evening is a throwback to a more innocent time of personal newspaper ads, the relative oddness of bisexuality and the suspiciousness of psychotherapy.

Prudence, answering a newspaper’s personals ad, meets Bruce in a restaurant called The Restaurant. “You have lovely breasts,” he tells her at the start, followed by news that he cries a lot, lives with a male lover named Bob and would like to marry her. “We’ll live in Connecticut,” he says. “We’ll have two cars. Bob will live over the garage. Everything will be wonderful.”

Thinking him nuts, she tries to wiggle out of the date. Understandably, she next consults her therapist, the randy, premature ejaculating Dr. Stuart Framingham, with whom she’s had a short affair. Meanwhile, Brice consults his own therapist, the certifiable Mrs. Charlotte Wallace, who uses a Snoopy doll in her sessions and confuses words. (Trying to think of “patient,” she first goes through “porpoise, pompous, pom pom, paparazzi, polyester, pollywog.”)

Finally, we also meet Bob, who naturally takes umbrage at Bruce’s interest in Prudence. Bob has phone conversations with his mother, a woman who sings “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy” and thinks Prudence must be a Lesbian.

Is that enough? Durang, who has written funnier farces (“Sister Mary Ignatius,” “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” “Miss Witherspoon”) is obviously riffing on stereotypes by carrying them to extremes. His therapists are battier than their clients though there’s something wistful about the lonely Prudence and Bruce.

But farce is a strange duck. It needs characters who appear normal and realistic. What’s funny is what happens around them as they try to right an upended world. In “Beyond Therapy,” our noses are thrust into eccentricity and we have zero empathy for the characters.

But the production makes up for the play’s stickiness. As Prudence, Nicole Lowrance is winsome and endearing, like a reincarnated Jean Arthur. Her hissy fit in the last scene, when she seems to elevate off the ground in anger, is a joy to behold. As Bruce, Jeremy Peter Johnson is steady, while Stephen Wallem avoids going overboard as the formulaic (fruity, mother-obsessed) Bob. Nick Gehlfuss has a nice bit as a studly waiter.

But Durang saves his most stinging barbs for the therapists. Trent Dawson’s Framingham is all macho bravado, a threatening, priapic father figure whom Durang obviously can’t stand. He has more sympathy for Charlotte, played by the delightful Kathleen McNenny with dotty whimsy and loads of blinking.

Director David Kennedy keeps everything awhirl, helped by Lee Savage’s turntable sets. The shock has gone out of this 1981 comedy, yet the shtick lingers on.

This review by Dave Rosenberg appeared in The Hour, Thursday, May 5, 2011.

 

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