Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Beyond Therapy"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark

"Beyond Therapy"

by Christopher Durang

Directed by Russ Robbins

Set Design by Russ Robbins
Lighting Design by Robb Macomber

Bruce.......................Peter Farrell
Prudence................Melissa Allen
Stuart.........................Bob Karish
Charlotte................Megan Tainer
Bob.....................Luis Rodriguez
Andrew......................Matt Hillas

It's hard to think of the shorthand-stereotypes in Christopher Durang's facile farce "Beyond Therapy" as people --- they say too many outlandish things, insist they hold too many outlandish things to be true, behave in such unpredictable ways. But Director Russ Robbins and the cast of the Wharf Rat production out in Salem think of them as admittedly odd real people, and the tension between their reality and their ludicrous quirks makes this comedy a success.

Prudence and Bruce are as weird as they start out because of the oddities of their respective psythotherapists, and before too long just whose heads should be examined, and by whom, is the big unanswered question. Prudence's doctor (Bob Karsh) has already seduced her, while Bruce's (Megan Tainer) thinks he's a completely different patient because she's reading the wrong file. Any wonder Prudence can't make up her mind to accept or reject him? And wonder Bruce wants to marry her but to keep his live-in lover Bob (Luis Rodriguez) living over the garage?

Any wonder that Melissa Allen's Prudence breaks into sudden rashes when Bruce's prose waxes pomposly purple? Any wonder Peter Farrell's Bruce enjoys bursting repeatedly into brief tears, and is always admitting he's been lying, either to himself or to someone else?

The wonder is that even a Prudence who answers two wildly different personal-ads for the same Bruce remains curious enough about his sincere first-date proposals to see him again. The wonder is that Bruce can go from dating a woman while living with a man to wanting to father children while having an occasional same-sex fling. ("I'm not a homosexual; I just prefer BOTH sexes" he blandly explains.)

Durang's penchant for glib satire and unbelievable detail makes this grip on reality difficult. The pair meet in a restaurant called "The Restaurant" where nothing short of a drawn gun will make the waiter so much as produce menus. Bob's possessive mother phones-in interfering suggestions and bursts into song when contradicted. Both therapists end up psychoanalyzing one another. And there's a giggle or a guffaw in nearly every outlandishly satirical line.

The Wharf Rats stage this farce on a big open-plan stage space that pushes the audience into a thin double-line against the walls yet draws attention into the action. That means quick scene-changes are in dim full-view yet they are precisely choreographed enough not to ruin the pace of performance.

It is still possible to laugh at rather than with these people, and despite tidy loose-ends there's no guarantee that the course of true marriage ever will run smooth. Still, Russ Robbins and his cast manage to make Durang's flatly funny shorthand-stereotypes as human as anyone in such a modern flat-out farce have any right to be. But they all stay funny, nonetheless.


"Beyond Therapy" (till 26 April)
Settlement House, 14 Derby Street, SALEM

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide