Raven Theatre

Despite the fact that Christopher Durang has written only two plays that directly confront his Catholic upbringing–The Nature and Purpose of the Universe and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You–Durang will always be a Catholic writer. Or, more precisely, he will always be a lapsed-Catholic writer. Even those plays of his apparently least concerned with the Catholic church, like A History of the American Film, or the play currently under consideration, Beyond Therapy, contain the sort of conflicted feelings about authority figures and systems of belief, and the half-acknowledged yearning for a universe over which someone is watching and judging, that one would expect from a product of the Church.

In his 1981 comedy Beyond Therapy, Durang turns his yearnings into a comic critique of modern psychology. Specifically, the sort of narcissistic, touchy-feely psychologizing lampooned so well by Albert Brooks in Modern Romance and Woody Allen in Annie Hall and Manhattan. Durang’s play concerns as sick a group of patients and doctors as you are likely to find on the stage. Among them: Stuart, a therapist with an early-ejaculation problem (which he rationalizes as a necessity in our fast-paced society) who sleeps with his patients; Charlotte, a therapist who speaks nonstop Freudian slips (she says “porpoise” for “patient” and “dirigible” for “secretary”); Bruce, who can’t decide whether he’s gay or bisexual, so lives with a man and dates women on the sly; and poor, twice-burned Prudence, who made the mistake of sleeping with her therapist, Stuart, and who now can’t talk to him about her attraction to Bruce without raising Stuart’s ire (“Is he better than me?” Stuart asks incredulously). The patients in this show are healthier than the therapists, who hurt as much as they help.

Unlike Durang in some of his more vicious comedies, for example The Nature and Purpose of the Universe, which bristles with all the pent-up anger of a conflicted adolescent trying to break away from his family, the playwright didn’t create this cast of characters just to make fun of them. His message is much more good-hearted. As Charlotte explains at one point in the play: “We’re all alone, everyone is crazy, and you have no choice but to be alone or to be with someone in what will be a highly imperfect and probably eventually unsatisfactory relationship.”

Don’t let this fool you; the play contains plenty of Durang’s trademark cruel wit, including a wonderful bit at the end of the first act in which Prudence tries desperately to remain cordial while Bruce and his lover Bob have a spat over the fact that Bruce has invited Prudence over. However, in Beyond Therapy, Durang’s characters express their anger as a way to heal themselves and become reconciled with an imperfect world.

Director Michael Barto’s cast has made itself perfectly at home in Durang’s mildly absurd universe. The actors–especially Kathy Keyes (who is hilarious as Prudence), Wayne Kneeland (as Bob), and JoAnn Montemurro (as Charlotte)–seem always to understand who they are and why they are doing whatever they are doing. Such understanding of and subservience to the playwright’s material is sadly uncommon.

The result is one of those all-too-rare non-Equity productions in which every actor seems rightly cast, and every moment is entertaining.