PLAY REVIEW: Beyond Therapy
By: Kevin Steele
On Saturday, I went to the Shea Center for Performing Arts here at William Paterson to see the play Beyond Therapy, written by Christopher Durang and put on by the University Theatre classes. When I arrived that evening, I was surprised when the usher told me that seating was on stage. For a moment, I thought that somehow I was now part of the play. Rather, it was an arrangement relative to the Black Box Theater. Because of this proximity to the stage, I felt an intimacy never experienced before while attending a play. It was as if I was at home sitting on my couch watching television.
In addition, something else that increased the intimacy was the setup on-stage. It was not a huge stage; or rather, it didn’t seem huge because the audience was sitting on it. Nevertheless, despite the size, three different settings were able to fit on the stage. There was a fancy looking restaurant (with no waiters), a therapist’ office, and a home setting. Whomever did the stage design did a great job of blending these three places in one space.
The play starts with a couple, Bruce & Prudence, out on a first date after Prudence found an ad that Bruce put out in the newspaper. After conversing for a while, Prudence was not impressed with Bruce because he lacked toughness, was excessively sensitive, and had too many crazy things going on in his life – the most notable one being that Bruce also had a male lover. The ironic thing about them is that both of them go to therapy and both of their therapists are clearly unqualified for the job. After reluctantly agreeing to a second date with Bruce, Prudence was able to make a connection with him, and this led to them forming a relationship. Throughout the rest of the play, the audience cringingly had to watch Prudence deal with Bruce’s issues, along with her own. To not spoil the rest of the play, I will leave out the excessive details.
The writing overall was not bad, but what made Beyond Therapy a good play were the actors involved. I was pleased with how well the actors interacted with each other. After the play, there was a Q&A session. Jennifer Fiore, who played Mrs. Charlotte Wallace, Bruce’s therapist, said that one way they prepared for the actual performance was to act out scenes that were not included in the play. For instance, she mentioned that her character and Bruce began acting practice with their therapy session. This is a great technique because it builds a chemistry between the characters and allows them to be more comfortable with one another on stage.
Dr. Stroppel, the director of the play, did a great job selecting the actors. Each actor/actress fitted their role perfectly. What played a big role in this play was the voice patterns and tone of each actor. Fiore easily was able to sound like the wise yet whacky therapist. Dr. Framingham, Prudence’s therapist, played by Joseph Saulenas, sounded like an insecure lady’s man.
My main problem with the play was the character introduced toward the end. During the scenes that took at the restaurant, the audience saw no waiter in the restaurant, however, this all changed when a character mentioned in passing entered the entire to create a major climatic moment. The audience should not have to learn about a new character so deep into the play, and if they do, then the person should have a bigger personality.
Also, the ending could have been better. I was waiting for something unpredictable to happen to end off the play, but it never came.
Overall, I think it was a good play that addressed topics that are relevant today; insecurity, sexual orientation, mental health, etc. Next time: no late characters, and a better ending.