Beyond Therapy — which opened for a Valentine’s Day revival at The Bay Theatre Company — is about love, sex and self-awareness in modern society. Specifically in New York in 1981, where everyone is messed up.
This absurd, R-rated farce features many hilarious moments at the expense of the mental health industry and the gay community. But its premise is too forced and tedious for this mainstream mom. Call me square, but I just don’t get it. By way of comparison, Rex Reed, the ubiquitous and flamboyant theater critic, called Beyond Therapy “one of the funniest plays I have ever seen.”
The story revolves around a couple of 30-something professionals who meet through personal ads. Bruce (Graham Pilato) is a divorced bisexual whose desperate desire for children drives him to histrionics in pursuit of a bride who will support his unconventional lifestyle.
Prudence (Mundy Spears), by contrast, is an old-fashioned girl in search of Prince Charming. She’s beautiful, sweet and accomplished, albeit naïve and placating.
Their first date is disastrous, so they retreat to their therapists, tweak their personal ads — and meet again for a prolonged and tortuous courtship that defies any test of reasonableness as they try to build a relationship on their shared fondness for the ballad “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
There comes a point when awkwardness stops being funny and is just awkward. I reached that point midway through Act I.
Thank God then for the collage of dysfunctional personalities surrounding Bruce and Prudence. Chief among them are the homophobic and inept charlatans whose incendiary slurs and incompetence keep the action entertaining. Prudence’s analyst, Stuart (Nigel Reed), is a predatory and abusive macho man with whom she has had a disappointing fling.
Bruce’s shrink, Charlotte (Janet Luby), is a flighty over-hugger who can’t remember the common vocabulary of the English language, let alone her patients’ names and problems. Adding to the hilarity are Bruce’s jealous live-in lover Bob (Peter Boyer) and the attractive waiter Andrew (Alex Vaughn), whom Bob and Prudence end up pursuing out of desperation.
The supporting cast are the true stars.
With his provocative posing and tempestuous narcissism, Reed personifies the shallow pick-up artist.
Bay Theatre Company artistic director Luby is exquisite as the loopy, New Age goddess of self-expression who says the most outrageous things with a straight face. Her improvisation skills saved opening night when a botched scene change threatened to sabotage the plot.
Boyer is a master of facial expressions and mannerisms: petulant, bitchy, insecure, manipulative. He is brilliant in the Act I finale when his juvenile attention grab ruins Bruce’s dinner with Prudence. She tells them that they, “are making a big, overdramatic mess of everything, and I don’t want to watch it anymore.”
Sadly, that about sums up how I was feeling. The sustained craziness has a Key Stone Cops quality to it that made me want to surrender.
The biggest problem with this play is plausibility, which perhaps translates to Spears’ acting. She’s far too radiant. There is nothing in her persona to show that Prudence hates herself enough to engage in a relationship with either of these two losers, Bruce or Stuart.
Technically, the show is a gem of a time capsule, from the Top 40 soundtrack to the fashion highs and lows, poking fun at social trends and timeless human foibles alike. Bruce’s office is decorated with architectural phallic symbols, just as Charlotte’s is plastered with children’s drawings and a Snoopy doll that channels her inner frustrations.
Frustration left me asking just who or what is Beyond Therapy in this show. Is it our confused protagonists, their therapists, or perhaps society at large? At a certain point, I stopped caring.
Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang. Director: Richard Pilcher. Set: Ken Sheats and Joann Gidos. Lights: Steven and Preston Strawn. Costumes: Beth Terranova.
Playing thru March 20, 8pm Th-Sa, 3pm Su @ Bay Theatre Company, 275 West St. Annapolis. $30 with discounts; rsvp 410-268-1333.