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Psych

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

What is one to think when the first scene of a new play takes place in a house of domination, with three dominatrices onstage? If the play in question is Evan Smith's Psych, it doesn't matter very much.

That scene plays only a tangential role in the story of Sunny Goldfarb (Heather Goldenhersh), a clinical psychology student with more than a few problems handling her interpersonal relationships. It's the way she earns her living, but since her job is such a non-issue for most of the show, the house of domination is hardly a major focus. In fact, Psych doesn't really have a major focus.

Sunny's story appears to be the play's intended center, but it doesn't quite work out that way; Sunny must share the spotlight with her friend Molly, who just moved to New York to prepare for the New York bar exam. As embodied by the talented Enid Graham, Molly is a compassionate, determined woman whose disposition and personal life are as fragile as Sunny's, but in different ways.

It's interesting, then, that so much of Smith's script focuses on other peoples' perceptions of Sunny. As her name might indicate, she is outgoing and friendly, sometimes overly or insecurely so. Sunny's plea is Smith's plea, but Goldenhersh's fight to be the play's center is a losing battle, almost from the first scene. Even there, when Sunny, clad in tight black leather from head to toe, interviews a man (humorously played by Danny Burstein, one of his many roles here) about his ultimate domination fantasy, Graham's complex, conflicted Molly is just more interesting to watch.

Marissa Copeland and Katie Kreisler play a number of other roles, including two additional dominatrices, and shine the strongest in their less showy roles (including the chairwoman of Sunny's psychology program and Sunny's conflicted classmate, respectively). Damian Young's oily Todd, one of Sunny's professors, is hit-or-miss, but Burstein lands solidly in all his roles, equal almost to Graham.

Claudia Brown's inventive costumes and Frances Aronson's lighting set the tone well against Kyle Chepulis's set, primarily a collection of glowing translucent panels. Jim Simpson has provided strong direction of Smith's script, negotiating scene changes and dual scenes with wit and daring. Psych never stops moving, though sometimes, particularly after some highly emotional scenes near the end of the show, a little breathing room wouldn't hurt the staging.

Or the script, for that matter. The second half of the play, which is much more complex and interesting than the first half, runs itself ragged trying to deal with the storylines and characters that comprise it. With so many events dropped into the last fifteen minutes topped by an intentionally (but refreshingly) ambiguous resolution, the last part of Psych is equal parts compelling and confusing.

When Psych is over, you may find yourself unclear about the nature of the events that transpired, and that uncertainty would appear to be part of the point. The script itself doesn't have the dramatic weight necessary to truly bring that message across, and the character of Sunny as portrayed by Goldenhersh simply isn't there to make sense out of what's going on.

That leaves Graham to hold the play together, a weighty task, but one she's more than willing to tackle. Smith's script doesn't give Molly everything it could, but she - and Graham herself - reign as the champs of the otherwise provocative, yet overall ineffective Psych.

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Playwrights Horizons
Psych
Peter Norton Space
555 West 42nd Street
Tickets: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission