Over-Examined Life Becomes a Farce in 'Beyond Therapy'
By: Joanne Briana-Gartner, May 14, 2012
Courtesy WHTC - The cast of 'Beyond Therapy' hams it up in the Woods Hole Theater Company production. From left, Thomas Slattery as Andrew, Ben Lieberman as Bob, Alex Colacchio as Bruce, Annie Hart Cool as Dr. Wallace, William Kennedy as Dr. Framingham and Sheena Costello as Prudence.
We’ve all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living, but what would Socrates have to say about the over-examined life?
The over-examined life is ridiculously funny—at least in the hands of playwright Christopher Durang in his best-known work, Beyond Therapy, a comedy directed by Don Dutton and produced by the Woods Hole Theater Company.
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Set in 1980s New York City, Beyond Therapy is a play about relationships, specifically the one that develops when 30-something Prudence (Sheena Costello) answers a singles ad placed by Bruce (Alexander Colacchio), a self-proclaimed “aging preppy” and bisexual who lives with his sullen boyfriend, Bob (Ben Lieberman).
The first meeting between Bruce and Prudence ends badly, and both parties regroup under the guidance of their individual therapists. Bruce’s therapist, Dr. Charlotte Wallace (Annie Hart Cool) advises her patient to place a new ad, which leads to a second meetup for the would-be couple.
Ultimately this leads to a comical face-off between the couple and their respective therapists at a restaurant, where service is extremely hard to come by.
If only Bruce and Prudence could think for themselves, they’d be less funny, but a whole lot better off.
As Bruce, Colacchio has a boyishly winning smile that makes you want to adopt him on the spot as if he were a tail-wagging puppy with pleading eyes. His personality is compulsive, a bit too compulsive; emotional, a bit too emotional; and agreeable, a bit too agreeable. He cries regularly, even though it makes Prudence uncomfortable.
“I don’t think men should cry unless something falls on them,” she says in one scene as Bruce lets go with some waterworks.
Prudence, as her name suggests, is a prim and proper, hair pulled back tightly, Type A personality. She lives alone except for her cats, but acknowledges that she wants to meet someone. She's the closest Beyond Therapy gets to a straight arrow, though she proves in Act II that she can play crazy with the best of them.
“I might be your last hope,” Bruce tells her.
Therapy for the therapists
In this play, even the therapists need therapists. Prudence’s therapist, Dr. Stuart Framingham (William Kennedy) and Dr. Wallace both take their respective places on the couch, where their patients capably analyze them.
In one scene, Dr. Wallace lies prostrate while Bruce takes notes about her failed marriage to “the first Mr. Wallace.” With her bouffant hairstyle, stuffed Snoopy doll and treasure trove of oddities in her file cabinet, Cool is hilarious as the absent-minded and slightly naughty female therapist.
For his part, Dr. Framingham is more than a little unclear on what the boundaries between patient and therapist ought to be. A would-be chauvinistic womanizer in tight pants from the 1970s and an oversized belt-buckle, his machismo is a direct contract to Bruce’s touchy-feeliness.
Overly over the top
The only fault I have with this play is with the play itself. Durang has gone a little overboard in his quest to make almost every character in the play quirky and eccentric, including Bob’s mother, a character we never even meet.
As the saying goes, if everyone is special, then no one is special. Durang would have done better to perhaps focus on the idiosyncrasies of just one or two of his characters rather than to spread them as thinly as he has.
Still, it mostly works, and it’s funny to boot.
A recurring line in the play is “people are human.” Is this simple statement an attempt to bring existentialist meaning to a comedy, just another absurd observation or the crux of a play in which we are asked to relate to some folks whose collective baggage might fill an airport carousel?
Funny as it is, “Beyond Therapy” does use strong language and deals in adult themes. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about bringing the kids, as you may find yourself with some explaining to do.