Theater review

Review: Studio Players' 'Beyond Therapy' is community theater at its best

Contributing Culture CriticMarch 12, 2014 

Jeni Benavides, seated, and Shea Baker star in Beyond Therapy at Studio Players.

LARRY NEUZEL

  • IF YOU GO

    'Beyond Therapy'

    What: Studio Players' production of Christopher Durang's comedy

    When: 8 p.m. March 8, 14, 15, 21, 22; and 2:30 p.m. March 9, 16, 23

    Where: Studio Players' Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Ct.

    Tickets: $21. Available at (859) 257-4929 or Studioplayers.org.

Studio Players continued its entertaining season of community theater this weekend, opening its production of the classic Christopher Durang comedy Beyond Therapy. This silly play is a send-up of neuroses likely to land one in psychotherapy and the even crazier shrinks performing the services.

Director Mary Christopher Grogan has staged the show in a manner that clarifies the action and keeps it moving at a steady pace. She has even filled the brief scene changes with entertainment, assigning contemporary songs that comment on the action at hand to a pair of clownish waiters (played by Patrick Lee Lucas and T.K. Hellard) who score laughs with their undercooked, overblown renditions while rearranging the stage. The piped-in accompaniments, meant to be overheard on the radio, should be louder; they were barely audible at Friday night’s performance.

The love-triangle characters are sympathetically portrayed, with as much nuance as the cartoonish script can allow. Jeni Benavides plays the husband-seeking Prudence with a winsome blend of self-deprecation and pluck, forging the most realistic character in the story, compared to whom the other characters are increasingly zany. Alex Maddox portrays Prudence’s bisexual suitor Bruce in broad, funny strokes with deadpan delivery of his lines and blithe reactions to the wild inconsistencies of his own and others’ behaviors. As Bruce’s boyfriend, Bob, Tanner Gray elicits both sympathy and smiles as the “dumb blond” of the three.

The psychiatrists in Durang’s comedy are far nuttier than their patients. One of Grogan’s directorial gambles that really pays off is her decision to cast the role of Prudence’s shrink, Dr. Framingham, with a woman, the hilarious Shea Baker, rather than a man. This renders all of the character’s inappropriate behavior toward Prudence and others as coming from an aggressive and highly liberated lesbian rather than from a randy middle-age man, giving the somewhat dated play an improbable but insightful jolt. Baker fills her stage time with all kinds of amusing business, from sight gags to interpolated asides; it’s the best kind of scene-stealing. Her comic inventiveness takes this show over the top.

The other psychiatrist, Dr. Wallace, is played with affectionate daffiness by Sharon Sikorski. This doctor is definitely in touch with her inner child, and Sikorski has a field day cutting loose with infantile abandon.

As the absurdities of the plot escalate to ever higher levels of ludicrousness, this production does not flail for energy, but rather just goes with it, not applying too much or too little theatrical pressure, ensuring a light, airy comic soufflé.

The production values are adequate to the needs of the play, with a basic set designed by David Bratcher, Mylissa Crutcher’s light design dominated by a trippy purple palette, and costumes coordinated by Grogan.

This production of Beyond Therapy, which runs for two more weekends, exemplifies community theater at its best. It’s a worthy staging of a time-proven comic classic, with opportunities for creatively talented people to strut their stuff for a couple of hours in front of an appreciative crowd.

Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.

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