’Beyond Therapy” showcases hilarious script

A simply adorned restaurant, with a table, two chairs and a strategically placed fake plant that you just know someone will be hiding behind sometime later in the show, sets the stage in the opening scene of Beyond Therapy. The play begins as Prudence (Natalie Smith “10) enters nervously to meet Bruce (Pearson Jenks “09) for a personal-ad-aided blind date. “I hope I”m not too macho for you,” Bruce offered nervously. “No, so far you seem wonderful,” Prudence reassured him.

A pause. And then a blurt from Bruce: “You have lovely breasts. That”s the first thing I notice in a woman.”

And so Beyond Therapy goes. From the first lines of the first scene it becomes clear that this play prides itself on offering up the most unexpected situations and dialogue possible. The zany and often jaw-dropping script (written by Christopher Durang) is ingeniously crafted, a boon for anyone who likes fast-paced, quirky repartee. Fortunately for audience members, the compelling lines were delivered by a well-chosen cast, and although some of the performances seemed a bit divergent from what Durang had intended in the script, the resulting show was far from unenjoyable.

The pretense of Beyond Therapy is about as complex as it gets. Essentially, Prudence and Bruce are two people looking for love in all the wrong places – i.e. personal ads. Both are also in therapy, trying to figure out how to improve their sad romantic lives. After their first date, the pair run into some conflicting pieces of advice from said therapists. While Prudence”s shrink Dr. Stewart Framingham (Ralph Morrison “10) insists that she should continue sleeping with him, Bruce”s psychiatrist Dr. Charlotte Wallace (Casey York “10) encourages him to place further ads.

Viewers seeing that first encounter may be likely to side with Wallace. During the aforementioned date wherein which Bruce compliments Prudence on entirely the wrong feature, it is established that Bruce cries at the drop of a hat and lives with his gay lover Bob (Robbie Amster “11), though Bruce himself is bisexual. After all of these gory details have come out, the pair ends the interaction by throwing glasses of water in one another”s face, they exit to go visit their respective therapists.

Amusingly, Prudence and Bruce end up meeting after answering each other”s personal ads yet again, only this time they begin dating. To add to the screwball factor, Bruce”s lover Bob further complicates matters and Prudence and Bruce”s therapists become increasingly involved in the couple”s unlikely romance. The play culminates in Bruce, Prudence, Bob, Wallace and Framingham (who does, indeed, end up hiding behind that fake plant in the restaurant) having dinner together, putting all of their problems out into the open. Having all the actors onstage at the same time made for some of the play”s funniest moments. At the same time, the action inevitably became a bit farcical at points – yes, stooping to behind that plant just toed the line from funny-to-obvious a little too intensely.

Still, the problems are tied up as nicely as can be expected when Bob overcomes his grief at losing Bruce to a woman by leaving the restaurant with a suave waiter (Nathaniel Basch-Gould “11). To boot, the two therapists make a connection, and Bruce convinces Prudence to go with her instincts and marry him.

York, as Dr. Charlotte Wallace, effortlessly stole the show. Her portrayal of Wallace”s character is dead-on, from her enthusiastic barking (her form of therapy includes encouraging her patients with a Snoopy doll) to her temporary blanking on words (the word “patient” is often, to her, confused with “porpoise”). Her bubbliness and energy helped escalate the liveliness of the show.

The performance”s inconsistent energy level was, in fact, one of its flaws. It was rather low at the beginning of the show – the line delivery and exchange, although achieving a dead-pan sort of comedic timing, became almost monotonous. Yet as the dynamics between characters increased in complexity, so too did the show”s energy.

This sense of progression and development was what eventually brought the play into the realm of the above-average. In the initial scenes, the character portrayals seemed somewhat forced. Prudence, a character meant to be uncommonly intelligent yet noticeably vulnerable, according to Durang, started out instead as petulant and harsh. But from one scene to the next, Smith did a great job of giving Prudence more dimensions. Jenks, too, had a great deal to piece together in Bruce, and although there were some inconsistencies (the somewhat insincere, awkward and farcically tearful Bruce at the beginning transformed at some point into a genuinely sensitive guy), he proved, finally, both touching and amusing.

There is no question that Beyond Therapy was often laugh-out-loud funny. Durang once said – and I agree – that the best way to achieve a truly comedic production is for each actor to portray his or her character as being completely sincere. Accordingly, the characters should have no idea that they are supposed to be funny, and therefore the humor comes from their cluelessness. This was not always the case with the cast of this production of Beyond Therapy. When subtle and genuine interpretation would have done nicely, the actors sometimes opted for exaggeration. Nevertheless, they got many laughs and laughter, after all, is the best judge of the success of a comedy.