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Beyond Therapy

Christopher Durang's Deranged Comedy

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Overview of the Play:

Written by Christopher Durang, Beyond Therapy is a quirky comedy about a lonely woman (Prudence) who replies to a personal ad and meets an eccentric, outspoken bisexual man (Bruce) who wants Prudence to be the mother of his children (and this is five minutes into their conversation). If Bruce sounds like he needs to be in therapy, he is. So is Prudence. However, both of their therapists are even more mentally messed up than the distraught main characters.

What Kind of Play is "Beyond Therapy"?

Beyond Therapy uses absurdist humor in that the characters often say and do outrageous things to people who respond in equally outrageous (and often unbelievable) ways. For example, one of the characters shoots at a therapist with a starting pistol. The therapist, for a moment, believes that she has been shot repeatedly, but she still says: "Good for you! Bravo! I like that. You're expressing you're feelings, people have got to express their feelings. Am I bleeding?" Here, Charlotte the therapist believes that an attempt on her life has been made, yet she is commending her patient on expressing his emotions. Hooray! Absurdity to the nth degree!

Beyond Therapy also features elements of farce in that there are romantic (and sexual) complications that culminate in a chaotic third act. Finally, Durang's comedy is laced with satire; in particular it parodies the potentially dysfunctional relationship between therapist and client. Charlotte Wallace, whom I have already explained exhibits bizarre behavior, forgets common words such as "patient" and "secretary." My favorite idiosyncrasy: she encourages her patient by making her stuffed Snoopy doll bark repeatedly.

As bad as this sounds, Charlotte is a genius in comparison to Prudence's therapist, Dr. Stuart Framingham. He sleeps with patients, boasts about how quickly he climaxes in bed, and even stalks Prudence after becoming jealous of her ongoing relationship with Bruce. Basically, it makes therapists look like incompetent even destructive fools - making me wonder how real-life therapists feel when they watch this play.

In a nutshell, you could call Beyond Therapy a comedy. but to be more specific, it's a satirical, absurdist farce. And it's a lot of fun with the right director, cast, and audience.

What Type of Audience?

Due to the subject matter and language, this play is ideal for college and professional stage companies who cater to edgier audiences. This isn't typical community theater fare. Although there isn't constant swearing, when there is profanity its potentially shocking to conservative audiences. (And with another satirical jab, the therapist characters have the foulest mouths!)

Bruce's Bisexuality:

One of the more intriguing sub-plots of the play deals with Bruce's jilted male lover, Bob. Since Bruce has decided he wants to settle down with a woman and raise a family, Bob obviously feels very resentful. He tries to convince Bruce (and himself) that bisexuality doesn't exist -- one is either gay or straight. However, the playwright explains that Bruce is not confused; he is equally attracted to both genders. In his notes, Durang states that Bruce "should not be a homosexual who is kidding himself and trying to be heterosexual, that would be unpleasing and malicious, and a lousy basis for comedy." Prudence is bewildered and a bit homophobic, but for because she is trying to be a more open person, she comes to find that despite Bruce's many foibles, he is a much better match for her than her erratic former therapist/lover, Stuart.

"Beyond Therapy" in Performance:

It goes without saying that good direction is vital to putting on a good play. But some plays, even with the most misguided of directors can still turn out to be pretty good. Such is not the case with Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang. If the actors in this comedy take their ridiculous characters quite seriously, magic and mayhem will delight the audience. If the director tells the actors to be as funny and as silly as possible, then the audience is in for a 90 minute headache.

The New York Times review of the Westport 2011 production hints at how to direct Beyond Therapy the right way. A look at an alternate review regarding film maker Robert Altman's 1987 disappointing adaptation reveals how Beyond Therapy can go seriously wrong. For any actors and directors preparing to take on the production, it would be beneficial to check out the playwright's extensive notes about how the characters can best be conveyed on the stage. (They can be found in the back of the Samuel French edition.) The short version of his advice: even though the characters do and say unbelievable things, treat them as believable people.

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