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Beyond Therapy

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Bruce and Prudence, the central characters of Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy, are the type of people who consider a song like "Someone to Watch Over Me" silly even while they live their lives by the philosophy it espouses. They hide behind their therapists' words as a way of avoiding their natural tendencies toward interaction. Most importantly, they need each other desperately.

In typical fashion, it takes them most of the play to realize this. But that's Durang's point - it's harder for people to relate to each other as people in a culture that de-emphasizes real human interaction. The specific culture that Durang was parodying no longer exists exactly as it did when Beyond Therapy was written in the early 1980s, but it will always be with us - it's always easier to hide behind something than to expose the truth of yourself to another.

It's because of director Mark Cannistraro's thorough exploration of this idea that the new production of Beyond Therapy at the Cabaret Theatre at Dillon's works as well as it does. The performers playing Bruce and Prudence, Kurt Bauccio and Marlene Wallace, camouflage themselves in a normalcy that makes them stand out from the off-kilter personalities and situations surrounding them. Watching them reveal more and more of themselves over the course of the show, and become more comfortable with each other, is where this Beyond Therapy finds most of its fun.

And there's certainly a considerable amount to be found in Durang's script, which seems simultaneously rooted in reality and a twisted, fractured, fantasy world where anything can happen, and probably will at some point. This results in a character-rich script replete with opportunities for six performers to give unique, colorful, and memorable portrayals.

That's what happens here. If the reserved Wallace and the effusive Bauccio stand out, it's primarily because of their extended amounts of stage time. Brad Letson, as Bob's live-in boyfriend, and Forba Shepherd, as Bruce's condescending and frequently confused therapist, get more than their share of laughs, while Damian Buzzario (filling in for Tom Daddario at the performance I attended) seemed so completely natural and comfortable in his role, I'd never have known he was an understudy if not for a program insert. Matt Fraley has the smallest role, as a frequently unseen waiter at the restaurant at which much of the show takes place, but makes the most of it.

As necessitated by the venue, the production is a small-scale one, though it always feels just the right size. Cannistraro's direction is well-judged in terms of pacing and comedy, never pushing too hard for laughs. The minimal, but not unattractive, production design is provided by Cully Long, and incorporates a number of Mondrian paintings that add to an atmosphere suggesting the search for order and control that all the characters, at one point or another, engage in.

Durang seems to take particular pleasure in toppling traditional comfort zones, and if the events of Beyond Therapy - which chronicle little more than just the very beginning of one relationship - seem to be a trial for the characters, it's certainly not the case for the audience, which is rewarded time and time again with great humor of both the broad and subtle varieties. But the laughs in this play come, as the best laughs always do, from situations that are based on at least a kernel of truth.

If we can be glad that most of our lives don't turn out quite like those of the characters in Beyond Therapy do, we can also be glad for this play - and this production - to be a firm but entertaining reminder that, while there are always people more insane than we are, it's always possible to clear them out and find the right person just around the bend. That's something well worth remembering.

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SourceWorks Theatre and Gizmo Productions
Beyond Therapy
Through August 7
Running Time: 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission
Dillon's, 245 West 54th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Schedule and Tickets: 212.868.4444