Lisa Levy plays doctor in Psychotherapy Live!
Lisa Levy plays doctor in Psychotherapy Live!
She may not be a doctor, but she plays one on the stage. And for the price of admission, you can volunteer for her homespun analysis, conducted live before a room of alternative theatergoers. So goes the premise of Psychotherapy Live!, a show that proves, if nothing else, that Lisa Levy is a born conceptual artist. Her act, part of HERE Arts Center's American Living Room festival, combines reality television, talk-show religion, and pop psychology, all elements very familiar from too many Americans' living rooms. Armed with a couch, a doctored degree, and a pair of microphones, Levy sets out to solve her patients' problems in thirteen minutes, relying on audience help and a copy of Psychology Made Easy for assistance.

Lest you doubt her sincerity, Levy is careful to point out that she only takes on volunteers with actual problems. When her first volunteer asks to do her session in the nude, Levy passes the offer, deadpanning, "We don't do sensationalism here." Without missing a beat, she quips, "Maybe that can be the issue we can discuss, why you feel that you should do that!" Her forum attracts all types of exhibitionist pranksters, and Levy tries to defend her show against them. This volunteer, who slipped under Levy's radar, invented a story of kitty-love, perhaps after seeing The Goat one too many times. At the end of the session, she reassured her lover, a human woman, that she was "just kidding."

This woman was no stand-in planted to keep things interesting. Levy reminded her that she takes her time seriously, and does not work with jokers. Rather than play her show for laughs, she presents herself as a genuine public servant. But she seems to forget that the "Master of Clinical Psychology" on her diploma originally read "Master of Fine Arts." Her crude grasp of pop-psychology could not help her identify another patient--perennial doormat to a directionless, mooching "artist" friend--as an enabler. The patient herself had to clue her in to the lingo. The performance artist also lacks the objective cool of a shrink. While projecting a jaded New York attitude, she found herself flustered by a Texan stoner who pushes weed on his unwilling thirteen-year-old daughter. Their dialogue was as interesting as a thirteen-minute bout of dueling indignation can be.

Exorcising patients:An audience member gets the theatrical treatment
Exorcising patients:
An audience member gets the theatrical treatment
Granted, volunteers don't seek her help as a genuine substitute for psychotherapy. When problems get beyond her expertise, Levy responsibly suggests professional help. But when she plays psychiatrist, suggesting medication to a bereaved woman whose depression clearly isn't chemical, she crosses the line from friendly advisor to uninformed third party. Her shtick can only work as that of a witty, insightful friend. During the performance that I attended, however, insight was running low. The audience that she asked for help had the best suggestions, the pithiest advice.

To her credit, Levy's inviting attitude makes the couch seem tempting. She is patient, almost to a fault, with everyone who goes onstage. All volunteers win self-help artwork, from jinx-removing spray to men's Midol. The most "revealing" person (watch out for the pun) wins a picture of her naked on an exercise bike. Many people will jump at the opportunity to unload mental burdens before a group of people, even when not being offered such prizes. Levy's show is not as tacky as a talk show, and you don't need an agent to get on. Psychotherapy Live! won't make for the most helpful or professional analysis, but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.