Premiere issue Autumn 2002

'Beyond Therapy' over-the-top comedy

Beyond Therapy
Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by Brendon Fox

Cassius Carter Centre Stage
The Globe Theatres complex
Balboa Park, San Diego, Calif.
Through Oct. 20

Whether Brendon Fox is a competent director won't be, can't be answered by his handling of the comedic "Beyond Therapy" at The Globe Theatres. He may have wonderful rapport with the actors, the expertise to instruct on lighting and sound, the instincts to make even a bad play seem good.

But none of that can be determined because what Fox has done with "Beyond Therapy" is cast it so perfectly that none of his other skills can be discerned.

While Christopher Durang's hilarious script obviously deserves the bulk of the praise for the pure fun of this production, the way it is brought to dysfunctional fulfillment on stage is due to the actors giving themselves wholly over to their barely sane characters.

The story revolves around a couple that couldn't be more mismatched: Prudence hates homosexuals and men who cry; Bruce has a gay lover and bawls at the slightest provocation.

On top of that, both of them have bushel-loads of what might generously be called "issues" to work out — and each has a therapist that is more screwed up than themselves.

Beyond Therapy The only way to tackle this play is to go over the top — way over the top — and the entire cast takes that approach. Anna Cody is perfectly repressed as the uptight but lonely Prudence, a woman so utterly afraid of being alone that she's willing to bond with a man who represents everything she dislikes.

Matthew Montelongo is equally convincing as the narcissistic but confused Bruce — a man who wants children and a family with a woman, but to have his gay lover live above the garage for the occasional tryst.

The characters of the therapists are even more outside the bounds of any sense of normalcy. Paul Michael Valley makes Prudence's therapist, Stuart, wholly believable as a sexually fixated loser who is utterly dependant on his patients for his emotional needs.

And Alma Cuervo simply takes possession of this production in the role of Charlotte, Bruce's therapist who talks to a stuffed dog, can't remember the simplest words and confuses her patients for one another, dispensing advice accordingly.

Durang's script contains a few too many topical jokes, placing it squarely in the '80s — it works better than it might in large part due to Anna Louizos' set design, which has an open, breezy feel that could belong to any time from the 1950s to the present. Lindsay Jones' soundtrack hews more closely to the period of Durang's script, with pop hits of the '80s used to fill time between scene changes.

Unfortunately, Durang let the end of the play slip away from him in the script — the story kind of peters out rather than ending on one of the sharp exchanges that punctuate so much of the script.

But these few weaknesses are easily glossed over by the superb comic timing and performances of the cast — this is as funny as live theater gets.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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