Originally produced in 1981, Christopher Durang’s BEYOND THERAPY is a classic of its time and has had some spectacular names associated over time. Sigourney Weaver, Diane Wiest , John Lithgow to name just three. Robert Altman even made a film loosely based on it.
Johann Walraven, director of the current production at King Street Theatre views the text with a modern eye. His director’s notes speak of a “mid thirties” guy who sees his peer group change and wonders what choice is right for him. That generation was certainly well represented in the audience the night I saw the show. I was often alone in laughing out loud in response to the text and its 80’s references.
Bruce (David Hooley) is feeling the lack of marriage and children in his life, this despite having a male live-in-lover, Bob (Jasper Whincop). Abetted by his meddling and inept therapist, Charlotte (Nadia Townsend) he is placing ads in the newspaper’s lonely hearts column. Twice, he attracts Prudence (Rebecca Scott) who has been egged on by her therapist, Stuart (Andrew Johnson). After at first hating each other, the pair grow into a nervous relationship.
While Bruce has Bob to deal with, Prudence has her hands full with Stuart. She has had sex with him in the past and he is very keen to repeat the experience despite her mention of deregistration and his premature ejaculation issue. Bruce takes Charlotte’s advice as gospel despite the fact that she has some kind of nominal aphasia and a Snoopy toy to support her who barks when a patient makes her happy. And poor Bob is not going without making a splash!
This farcical comedy was written just before AIDS tore at the heart of the permissive society that the counter culture had created in both the gay and the straight communities. The play certainly has sex at its core, but there are no value judgments about the sexual relationships on display. It is more to do with observing the poor behaviour of its characters.
In fact, no-one behaves themselves, sexually or ethically, and parallels are easily drawn with contemporary society. One has only to observe internet dating and the prevalence of writing a spurious profile or using Grinder to pick up an available body.
It was a chaster time when this play was created and the cultural references are only really available to those who understand them. Masters and Johnson got a laugh and bran cereal is still topical but Betty Friedan and Perrier water have disappeared. What carries the show is the accessibility of the characters. The whole cast works well together and there is clear chemistry among the 5 leads.
As Charlotte, Nadia Townsend is the strongest and delightfully steals all her scenes. As Bob, Jasper Whincop is very much in the “Are You Being Served?” late 70s stereotype that thankfully we have moved on from but his moves and facepulls are appreciated by the audience. If Hooley and Scott as Bruce and Prudence are likable but don’t fully convince, it is partly because of their long static interactions on a small set.
The first scene is particularly difficult to engage with when an audience is trying to assimilate a long gone language without much visual support. There are some really good aspects to the direction though. The scene change concept is masterful and the physical comedy is well handled.
I laughed loudly in different places to the rest of the audience and I even texted my friend some of the best lines after the show. He’s my age and like me, lived through it. It was actually quite fun to compare what I found comic with what the other viewers were responding too. Something for every one really!
BEYOND THERAPY by Understudy and Epicentre Theatre Company and Emu Productions continues at the King Street Theatre until 14th February.
For more about Beyond Therapy, visit http://www.kingstreettheatre.com.au/beyond-therapy/