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Beyond Therapy

The Williamstown Theatre Festival serves up an oddly bloodless production of Christopher Durang's 1981 comedy. logo
Kate Burton in Beyond Therapy
(© T. Charles Erickson)
When it premiered in New York in 1981, Christopher Durang's polymorphous romance, Beyond Therapy -- about a lonely magazine editor aptly named Prudence who takes up with an insistently bisexual, bipolar head case named Bruce -- unwittingly heralded the end of Sexual Revolution. And with its references to the infamous sex club Plato's Retreat and other touchstones of the era (David Berkowitz, Kate Millett, Skylab), the play is very much a product of its time.

So it's puzzling why, for the current Williamstown Theatre Festival production of Beyond Therapy (bound next month for the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor), director Alex Timbers would choose to place the action in some sort of amorphous present, as well as encourage his cast to take such a subdued approach to the material. The upshot is an oddly bloodless production of a once-hilarious play.

The good news is that, dated as some of Durang's references may have grown, changing mores have not withered his ageless wit, resulting in lots of laughter. But other than the disco lights and beats that accompany the rather laborious scene changes mandated by designer Walt Spangler (which completely kill a little fringe-theater joke about all the settings looking alike), there's not the slightest indication that we're backtracking a quarter-century. Similarly, Emily Rebholz's costumes summon no pointy collars or flared pants, much less macho mustaches, mullets, or other regrettable fashion choices.

As Bruce, who veers between sexist predator and sensitive "new male," Darren Goldstein has a great cry-baby grimace at the ready, but otherwise doesn't offer much shading or charisma. Katie Finneran is immensely appealing as Prudence, especially as she starts to lose patience, but she's perhaps too much of a prize. We never see the prissiness and rigidity that would have reduced her to the want-ad dating pool in the first place. Matt McGrath plays Bob, Bruce's significant other, as the very model of a modern homosexual, buttoned-up as a Boy Scout, without an ounce of flounce. His ill-suppressed rage is the most reliable source of humor.

As the therapists, Kate Burton swans it up as Charlotte Wallace, Bruce's dithery, wacko shrink, who urges her client to embrace "passion" at all costs, while Darrell Hammond chooses to downplay the machinations of Dr. Stuart Framingham, Prudence's criminally overstepping analyst, and play him as recessive and saturnine. It's a sly choice -- the premature ejaculator who doesn't overcompensate with a big show of masculinity -- and the subtle tack might work if it weren't already taken, multiple times, by other cast members.

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