Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Review: Stage West's 'Beyond Therapy' is a love-it or hate-it story

If you're a fan of absurdist, surreal farce, with a boatload of satire thrown in, Beyond Therapy, playing weekends through Nov. 18 at Stage West Community Playhouse's Forum, will be your delight.

If you're not into all that? Not so much.

Playwright Christopher Durang's 1981 script came at the tail end of the "everyone has a therapist" craze, and Beyond Therapy capitalizes on some of the looney therapists and therapy techniques going around at the time. Remember the Primal Scream sessions? Off which many a scream leader made a fortune? And few, if any, were helped?

In it, lonely, confused Prudence (Miranda Griffith) and bisexual Bruce (Patrick Moran) meet each other through a personal ad. Bruce is over-emotional — he loves to cry — and is stepping out on his prissy, jealous live-in lover Bob (Dan Brijbag) hoping to make Prudence the mother of his children. And quick — like now.

The potential marrieds are deep in therapy, Prudence with the lecherous Dr. Stuart Framingham (Bill Dimmitt), Bruce with the wacky Mrs. Charlotte Wallace (Jeanine Martin). Though Bruce clearly knows what he wants — a woman, some children and his male lover — the nearly-30 Prudence is trying to figure out what she wants in life. Dr. Stuart just wants lots of quickie sex with Prudence and any other woman who hits his counseling couch.

Thursday's opening night audience gave the biggest laughs to Dr. Stuart and his premature ejaculation problems. But, hey, Stuart opines, isn't two minutes enough for all these demanding females?

The homosexual and bisexual jokes are old stuff now and didn't get the laughs they may have gotten in the early '80s. Neither did the then-shocking language, which anybody who's been around a seventh-grader in recent years or tuned in to a Chris Rock special has already become, alas, accustomed to hearing.

That leaves the plot and characterizations to work with, and director W. Paul Wade's cast did all they could with that, which went from hilarious to mildly amusing to oh-my-gosh-will-this-never-end and back in the space of two hours.

Dimmitt makes the most of his supporting role of Dr. Stuart, leering at Prudence and making inappropriate advances, delivering each line with a self-satisfied smirk. The ever-dependable Moran seems comfortable as Bruce, and Ms. Martin's Mrs. Wallace makes the most of the show's most meaningful lines, though the antics of her character as the in-office therapist sometimes drag on and on and on and would probably mean more to a sophisticated young, New York audience in the 1980s than they do to Nature Coasters today.

Brijbag's Bob is a mite too precious, with a phony accent that jumps from London, to the Upper East Side or Fire Island, to, say, Timber Pines, not always successfully.

Perhaps the most relatable character is Ryan Rogers's Andrew, the waiter who ignores the customers until summoned by gunshots. Most of us have been there. (Andrew is the role that launched David Hyde Pierce's career, by the way.)

Beyond Therapy isn't the usual community theater fare, and Stage West deserves credit for bringing something so out of the ordinary to local audiences.

Even so, it's like online theater critic Frank Rizzo wrote more than a year ago, "You either give yourself up to the silliness or you find it insufferable." Your call.

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