Beyond Therapy: a Review
At the Beckett on Theatre Row in Manhattan, performed by the Actors Company Theatre, there is a revival of the 1982 "farcical" play, Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy.
Tedious and overdrawn, it has not been refreshed or updated in the intervening years since its Broadway debut more than 30 years ago, when it had a run of 30 performances and 11 previews. Or since its brief recurrence in a Robert Altman 1987 film, when the script was rewritten by Altman, to the playwright’s annoyance.
Some plays cry to be remounted. This is not one of them. Which is not to say that there could not be a valid and really funny play about personals, and getting therapy to address an inability to commit. Or whatever the current mantra is to explain single status.
For anyone not acquainted with the play, the idea seems skeletally amusing: Two attractive but unfocused city people meet via the personals common before the age of OK Cupid or JDate sites. Each half of the unlikely couple, Bruce (Mark Alhadeff) and Prudence (Liv Rooth), is being treated in therapy with a supposedly licensed shrink -- a term that one does not use with sober and effective therapists. The unhappy ad-using duo are clearly mismatched and not at their best, and each makes numerous missteps and awkward verbal gaffes in a blighted attempt to make a love connection. One not-funny element that may have been tolerably absurd back in the day but is now just ridiculous is that the male seeking a girlfriend has an unhinged live-in male lover, Bob, who is understandably hysterical and strongly miffed at the concept of his lover suddenly dating women.
When each protagonist , Prudence and Bruce, attends their separate therapy sessions, we see the even more bizarre male therapist, Stuart (Karl Kenzler), togged out in cowboy buckle and denims, seems to have a perv fixation. He cannot seem to focus on his analysand’s problems; he insists on continuing the abortive one-time liaison with a clearly dissatisfied Prudence. “You are not only a premature ejaculator, you are a lousy therapist!” Yet back she goes for further sessions. He harangues Pru to continue therapy, which is more a way for him to try to reconnect with the attractive Prudence. Charlotte, Bruce’s wacky analyst, is not much better. Charlotte (the actually funny, very experienced Cynthia Darlow) is a full-on ditz job with memory disorientation and partial aphasia, dresses like a gypsy, and has self-esteem problems as she clutches a Snoopy doll and tries to seduce any male within earshot, including Bob and a nearly invisible waiter who fails to appear during three separate visits by customers. “I like this restaurant,” Prudence observes. “They give the customer a lot of time to get acquainted…”
The six principals in the “comedy” must have had a hard time finding suitable gigs. As hard as the director tries to give them stage business, and as much as the protagonists yawp, moue, prance about, grimace and mince, nothing authentic transpires onstage. To be fair, it is more poor direction and probably significant miscasting that causes the bulk of the onstage mess. In 1981, by contrast, the marvelous Dianne Wiest and the versatile John Lithgow played Prudence and Bruce, with David Hyde-Pierce doing the slight but supercilious role of the mostly absent waiter.
We counted six laughs in the 2 hours plus intermission. More than laughter, what leaks out of the audience is a sense of acute embarrassment that this screeching wreck halted long enough to board. Amusing as the scene changes are, that does not warrant a visit to the Beckett Theatre.
Correction: No matter the unfunny scripted stage goings on, the stage itself is serviceable. The multiplex stages of the Beckett house five productions at a time, and the boutique amphitheatre itself may be encapsulated as kind of cute. Contrary to the proceedings onstage, with 6 glasses of water being thrown in actors’ faces during the two acts, and tired jokes about the greatness of Equus stabbing horses and so on being a 'moral decision,' flying drearily through the stage lights, only the set changes are lively. The lights dim as the furniture, lights, props and curtains change and slide, music bumpers keep the beat, and notably ’80s dance moves occur as the scenery goes from sunset in a restaurant (dubbed, tongue-in-cheekily, Restaurant) to therapy office to bachelor pad.
Not as enchanting, especially for younger viewers, are the wholly dead cultural references of the late ‘70s, scandals, plays, books and movies. These drop into the ether with no resonance, even for tourists eager to applaud and laugh whenever possible.
Why anyone should revive a flopperoo like this dud not only once, in 1982, when it could not have evoked much laughter, but also in 2014, when it evokes none, is mystifying. Yet the theatre was almost completely sold out.