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Psycho Therapy

Frank Strausser's comedy about a couples therapy session for three never really develops much beyond a single-joke premise.

Angelica Page and Jeffrey Carlson
in Psycho Therapy
(© Carol Rosegg)
There are a few laughs to be had early on in Frank Strausser's new comedy, Psycho Therapy, receiving its world premiere at the Cherry Lane Theatre. But the play never really develops much beyond a single-joke premise.

The work centers on Lily (Angelica Page), who has come to therapist Nancy Winston (Jan Leslie Harding), hoping to embark upon couples therapy with her boyfriend Philip (Laurence Lau). However, not only is Philip a no-show for their first session, in his place comes Lily's ex-boyfriend, Dorian (Jeffrey Carlson), who pretends that he's Philip.

As might be expected, the play seeks to capitalize on the comic potential of the set-up -- particularly once the real Philip shows up for the second couples session, and he, Dorian, and Lily all end up on the psychotherapist's couch together. Unfortunately, Strausser draws the situation out too long without giving his characters and their relationships the necessary complexity that could make the audiences care about these people.

Page has an expressive face, and several of the show's funnier moments are tied into her non-verbal abilities. But the voice that she adopts as Lily -- a combination of petulance and coquettishness -- is somewhat grating after awhile.

Carlson radiates charisma, and he makes it easy to see why Lily would take up with the rather self-involved Dorian again, even though she supposedly loves Philip. For his part, Lau has a charm of his own, and plays his character's confusion and frustration well.

Harding has a way of modulating her voice to good comic effect, but often pushes too hard -- possibly to make up for the script's deficiencies. This is most apparent in the various phone calls that Nancy makes to her other patients, and to her teenage daughter -- all of whom are involved in their own relationship dramas.

The show could benefit from a strong directorial hand to reign in some of the actors' excesses -- for example, some of Harding's stage business with pieces of chocolate -- and to improve the pacing, which is way too leaden for a comedy.

However, the production's original director Alex Lippard departed the production recently, with an uncredited creative consultant brought on to prepare the show for the press opening, which was delayed by a little over a week. Unfortunately, the work done here doesn't really do anyone credit, and further delays -- or perhaps a complete rethinking about mounting the play -- may have been warranted.