Beyond Therapy

Local Arts Reviews

Beyond Therapy: Painfully Complex

Dougherty Arts Center,

through September 21

Running Time: 2 hrs

By billing it as a "neurotic" comedy, Naughty Austin Theatre Company seems to position Beyond Therapy in the Woody Allen movie genre. This production would best compare to the filmmaker's late career efforts -- one of the recent offerings that he seemingly wrote during a spare hour in a psychiatrist's waiting room. Excepting a few spry Allenisms like "I'm not ready for exercise yet," most of the dialogue limps so badly that cast members appear visibly impressed whenever someone actually trots out their lines intact.

Ben Grimes plays Bruce, a bisexual who keeps lying about himself in personal ads to please his wacky therapist. Elissa Linares plays Prudence, a single woman answering ads to escape her pervy therapist. After a couple of sour dates in "The Restaurant," Bruce and Prudence get all mushy. News of the tryst incurs the jealousy of Bruce's lover, Bob (Bryan Schneider), and Prudence's therapist, Stuart (Brionne Davis).

Grimes and Linares provide the best reason to tune into this talky affair -- what their characters lack in likeability, they make up for in believability. "No one is just one thing," says Bruce to Prudence in the first act. It's the last thought the play provokes.

Elsewhere, Davis has some good punchlines as Stuart, the macho therapist. But the character of Stuart is as two-dimensional as the ponderous belt buckle he wears to compensate for his hastened passion. Even Bryan Schneider, a deft comic, pitches Bob's singing routine a few octaves above the humor range in a low whine.

The elusiveness of waiters becomes a recurring gag in the restaurant scenes. As the waiter, Shawn Friesen brings some long-awaited mirth when he finally arrives. Director Marisa Pisano did an excellent job of the stage design, changing location using only four moveable chairs and a couple of desks. "This place looks just like the Restaurant," says Prudence when she sees Bruce's apartment, "and it looks just like my therapist's office."

Pisano wants the audience to embrace Bruce's psychiatrist, scatterbrained Charlotte (Natalie George). George's high-pitched antics may ring a bell with Dougherty Arts Center regulars. For the second time in two years, a shrill character forces Ken and Barbie to dry hump on this stage -- and I am traumatized.

A gifted bunch of artists, Naughty Austin and Marisa Pisano can find a script with more crunch without going all the way to the Big Apple. Jersey-born playwright Christopher Durang cannot decide if he finds pop psychology laughable or gospel. Unable to beat them, Durang joins the people who James Thurber described as "the heavy writers [who] had got sex down and were breaking its arm."


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