Review: Like the ’80s, Entertaining but Ultimately Self-Indulgent

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The world of 1980s psychotherapy is the theme of Bay Street Theatre’s current offering, “Beyond Therapy” by Christopher Durang. You don’t have to be in therapy or even have fond memories of the ‘80s to enjoy this play, but like much of the culture that defined the ultimate “me” decade, though you will be amused, in the end, don’t expect to walk away with any greater understanding of the human condition.

Directed by Alex Timbers, the farcical play centers around two confused people looking for love and their respective, twisted therapists who are in much more need of therapy themselves than their patients.

The play opens in a cozy, if understaffed, restaurant where Bruce (Darren Goldstein), who has placed a personal ad, meets Prudence (Katie Finneran) who has answered it.

Their first meeting does not go well. Within minutes, Bruce makes a sexually crude remark, shares the fact that he has a live-in male lover, Bob, and breaks into tears when Prudence balks at the prospect of furthering their relationship.

Bruce cries easily. Prudence finds crying a sign of weakness in men. Bruce is an admitted bisexual. Prudence doesn’t believe bisexuality is possible and says she hates homosexuals.

Things end badly and Bruce and Prudence are soon back on their therapist’s couches. Hers is the smarmy and manipulative Dr. Stuart Framingham, a misogynistic macho Marlon Brando wanna-be, played hilariously by Darrell Hammond. For a short time, the insecure and totally unethical Dr. Framingham was Prudence’s lover and he seethes with jealousy when she talks about other men. Dr. Framingham, for his part, struggles to maintain a psychological hold on Prudence by trying to convince her that she is much to fragile to leave his care. She’d like to sue him for his unprofessional behavior, but won’t.

Bruce’s therapist is the whacky Mrs. Charlotte Wallace, played wonderfully by Kate Burton, an irresponsible free-spirit who encourages Bruce to live free of societal constraints, regardless of how harmful that may be. Mrs. Wallace barks when excited, talks through a Snoopy doll, forgets even the most basic details of her patient’s lives and frequently free associates to find the right word (would you send in the next “porpoise” please…. ohh, I mean “patient”).

Despite the initial obstacles, and bad advice from their therapists, Bruce and Prudence soon meet up again. The confused Bruce is eager to try it all while the repressed Prudence seems just desperate enough to give unconventional Bruce another try — an unlikely match is made.

There remains, of course, one large obstacle in this relationship, and that is Bob, Bruce’s live-in lover who feels Bruce’s heterosexuality is simply a phase. Bob, played by Matt McGrath, is an absolute scream. His silent entrance when he first meets Prudence is hilarious and alone is worth the price of admission.

The second act of “Beyond Therapy” brings the dysfunctional players together (along with a beleaguered waiter, Andrew, played by Bryce Pinkham) in the most unlikely of circumstances. As is the case in most farces, the action is fast paced, full of quirky situations and definitely entertaining.

But while the acting is top notch and “Beyond Therapy” has its share of laughs, the play never truly rises to a level where it offers real insight. Some comedies reveal truth through humor. This is not one of them. Because the characters originate from points of extreme, in the end, they remain studies in stereotype.

That doesn’t mean audiences won’t have a good time with “Beyond Therapy.” It just means they shouldn’t go expecting a break-through.

The production is rounded out by Jeff Croiter’s lighting design, Fitz Patton’s sound design and Walt Spangler’s creative rotating set, which is simple, but effective. Complete with vertical blinds and modern ‘80s décor, it defines the mood of office, restaurant and apartment perfectly. Emily Rebholz understated costumes are perfect and don’t overdo the ‘80s theme.

“Beyond Therapy” a co-production with the Williamstown Theatre Festival, runs through July 27, 2008 at the Bay Street Theatre on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. For tickets, call 725-9500.

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