This week, the Bay Street Theatre opens “Beyond Therapy” Christopher Durang’s play about a woman, Prudence, a man, Bruce, and their respective therapists who offer their patients guidance and counseling as they help them navigate the brave new world of personal ads and first dates.
Durang wrote the play in 1981, and was inspired by what was happening in his circle of friends at the time.
“We were all 29 to 32,” says Durang. “All of us were always in therapy and telling each other over lunch what our therapists said this week.”
“It was the early ‘80s and fertility treatments were not as common then,” he adds. “We also had women friends who were nervous about not having found a relationship and started a family. Back then, 36 or 37 was a cut off. That’s the atmosphere we were in.”
Durang and his friends represented the first of the baby boomers to tackle a lot of these issues. They were the offspring of parents who married young, had children early and didn’t discuss their problems with anyone.
“My parents generation and grandparents were great believers in not talking about your problems or sharing dirty laundry in public,” says Durang. “I was growing up out of that.”
“Going to a therapist for my generation was not a shameful thing, but a smart thing to do,” adds Durang. “When I was at Harvard, I was impressed that they offered you free psychological counseling, which implied you could be smart and still need it. So I took advantage of it.”
“Beyond Therapy” has been produced many times since it enjoyed a run on Broadway in 1982, and much has changed in the intervening years. Durang has, on occasion, been asked to make some of the play’s references less specific — the mention of the long defunct sex club Plato’s Retreat, for one. But Durang points out that the climate in which the play was born is vital to the telling of the story. This was a play written before cell phones and computers were common. Speed dating and Internet websites for singles may make meeting up with total strangers a perfectly acceptable form of dating today. But in the early ‘80s, it was very risky to place a personal ad looking for love (much less answer one). Back then, it just seemed pathetic and completely desperate.
Durang adds that now that the 1980s are some 20 years removed, the play has taken on a patina, which places it specifically — and appropriately — in the era. And while trends have come and gone in the years since its premier, one thing that hasn’t changed is the pursuit of therapy — and patients’ propensity for talking about it with friends. That, it would seem, is as common as a gym membership in the 21st century.
Which may explain why “Beyond Therapy” continues to be produced, not only by regional theatres like Bay Street, but at college and community level venues as well.
“I’m enjoying the fact it’s done a lot — also in the college and high school arena,” says Durang. “I think it’s one of my friendlier plays. It’s not one you go home disturbed by, like some of my others. There’s also kind of a romance. You’re pulling for the characters. I’ve always liked it. It’s a play that keeps being done.”
Durang, who lives in Pennsylvania, will travel to Bay Street to see this production of “Beyond Therapy.” He will be in the area for two weeks beginning July 16 as part of the Writer’s Conference at Southampton College where he will be teaching playwrighting.
“Beyond Therapy” is a co-production with Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. It stars Kate Burton, Katie Finneran, Darren Goldstein, Darrell Hammond, Matt McGrath and Bryce Pinkham. The play runs through July 27 at the Bay Street Theatre on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Call 725-9500 for tickets.