Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Beyond Therapy @ The Beckett Theatre @ Theatre Row

Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy finds its way back to New York City this spring at the Beckett Theatre. The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) has revived this piece for the first time on a New York City stage in thirty-two years.  Though a laudable effort to bring back a piece from a writer who has had recent success and popularity, Beyond Therapy should, perhaps, have been left in the vaults.
Beyond Therapy is a story about two lost souls, Prudence and Bruce, on the Upper East Side looking for their special somebody in 1982.  Both are in therapy and have decided that the personal ads are the best chance they have.  They meet and do not get along, but when re-encouraged to try the personal ads, they find each other again.  This leads them to take a bit more time to get to know one another and in the end, to start a relationship.  There are some complications though.  Prudence’s therapist Stuart has already slept with her and is incredibly jealous of another man coming into the picture.  His inadequacies are laid bare for all to see in his often role reversed sessions with Prudence, culminating in discussions about his problems with premature ejaculation.  Bruce’s therapist Charlotte is absent-minded enough to give Bruce advice that she may have meant for another.  Deciphering that advice is hard enough with Charlotte forgetting common words and then losing her thoughts completely while trying to think of the word she missed.  If all that is not enough, there is always Bob…Bruce’s live in lover.  Did I mention Bruce was bisexual?  All of this adds up to one crazy mess as the characters try to navigate through their daily relationships.
Now delivered as a period piece, Beyond Therapy holds all the potential to be a relevant work for our time.  The complications of third party dating connections, of complex relationships, of people in authority taking advantage of you or being just as lost as you; All of these ring true for audiences of a modern time, whether they are delivered through kitchy 80’s pop references or through every day persons.  Unfortunately, in order to be relevant to any audience, you must first connect with them. Beyond Therapy turns everything it touches to unabashed satire.  This makes for some amusing comic punch lines while leaving any connection to actual life or to its characters at the door.
Content aside, the cast tries with all their might to inject some real life and flair to their characters.  Liv Rooth as Prudence and Mark Alhadeff as Bob will the audience to want something for their characters. It is obvious that they did a great deal of work to add depth to characters that have little by writing alone.  Their performances are solid and nearly succeed in buying our investment, though sometimes to the detriment of comedic timing.  Rooth’s outbursts are hilarious, however; truly well set up and executed.
The therapists, played by Cynthia Darlow (Charlotte) and Karl Kenzler (Stuart) are the source of the running gags and antics.  Their over the top performances and often child like responses are exactly what the satire needs to elicit hearty laughter from the audience.
The flow of the show is a delight, with credit going mainly to Scott Alan Evans.  The scene changes, delivered like campy '60s TV sitcom dance breaks, are inspired and are a pleasant distraction while also keeping the audience engaged in the action.
Despite some truly thoughtful performances and imaginative directing, in the end the show is nothing more than cheap laughs that ring hollow just past the doors to the theater.

Review By: Paul Morin

Photos By: Marielle Solan Photography

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