If therapy has ever been in vogue, it started somewhere after the mid-20th century. When Chrisopher Durang's Beyond Therapy first premiered in New York City in 1981, this idea of therapy was almost trendy. A hip socialite might ask, "who's your therapist?" directly after asking about the designer of your evening gown. Freud, meet Balenciaga.
Enter Durang's absurdist comedy, a tale of romance sparked through personal ads that takes place primarily on the therapy couch. The main characters find themselves struggling to navigate a culture in which being gay or unmarried in your thirties is more common, but still taboo. Prompted by his therapist to seek a woman, in spite of his live-in boyfriend, Bruce pens an ad in a newspaper through which he meets Prudence. Thrust together by a desperate need to find straight-laced companionship, they find themselves meeting over and over.
In Durang's repertoire of absurdism, Beyond Therapy is one of his first truly optimistic works; prior to this mismatched love story, he wrote with much darker interests. Yet it turns with the same velocity as his other plays, like Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For Youor A History of the American Film.His plays tend to spin out of control, barreling along to an ending of cymbal clashes and dramatic antics. This is true of Beyond Therapy, but instead of leaving the audience in the mayhem of Sister Mary, this time Durang leaves his audience with pangs of hope.
As Prudence, the practical half of this inept coupling, Dana Schultes keeps her panties delightfully wadded and her nose at least two inches above her current situation. She's at once the perfect, prissy foil to her Southern misogynistic therapist (a sonorous Jakie Cabe), yet she's also desperate enough for help that she continues seeing him and answering the ads of would-be Pulitzer Prize-winning love-seekers.
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Her personality fully clashes with Bruce (Mark Shum), who continues taking out these personal ads at the encouragement of his daffy therapist Mrs. Wallace (an amusing performance by Amber Devlin). Sparks don't fly, although glasses of water do, but like a predictable rom-com, these two decide to meet again.
The play ventures into farcical territory when Bruce invites Prudence over for dinner and his live-in boyfriend, Bob (Tyler Martin, who mugs like Jim Carrey), decides not to disappear for the evening. And things just spiral from there.
There's nothing straightforward about Beyond Therapy, which is as much about falling in love as it is about getting your head on straight. It's a silly romp and the perfect primer for next season when Stage West mounts Durang's newest play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
Beyond Therapy continues through September 28 at Stage West, 823 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth. Tickets are $16-32 at 817-784-9378 or stagewest.org.