‘Beyond Therapy’ needs a dose of speed

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There’s an attraction for directors to Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy.”

Its lampooning of psychobabbling me-generation members and profundity of rude language give it an edgy surface. It’s like a coarser, more farcical Woody Allen. It’s also incredibly dated.

Mr. Durang packs his dialogue with cultural reference that may have been funny when they were fresh out the oven. Prudence, the female lead in this romantic farce, says at one point that she thinks Shaun Cassidy’s cute, but “he’s too young for me.”

Not even 20 coats of irony can save that line from disappearing into the sinkhole. Plenty of other names and pop culture-isms get dropped, from Peter Schaffer’s “Equus” to Dyan Cannon, and they hit the ground, brick-like.

It’s not just the little things either that date “Beyond Therapy,” but the world the play is set in — one where sexual identity is still up in the air and debatable (much is made over whether bisexuality truly exists, or whether women have senses of humor).

Perhaps fledgling director Chad Osborne is attracted to the promise of outrageous physical comedy, or equally outrageous foul-mouthery, but if so, he needs to work on pacing.

Mr. Durang was one of the first playwrights to try to get audiences in and out of the theater in under 90 minutes, and his plays were written to be performed with no intermission. Mr. Osborne’s version takes nearly two and a half hours including intermission, the main reason being the need to strike the set for each act — a process that took up to five minutes each time. Mr. Osborne provides us with musical interludes by the group “Private Drive,” playing jazz and bossa nova standards, while stagehands scuttle about. Pleasant, but it does not disguise its time-killing function.

And the sets, designed by Chris Straughn, were large and unnecessary. A restaurant featured four tables and a reception area, when only one table was used the entire scene. A Persian rug was unrolled several times during the night, only to be rolled up again after a period of non-use.

Mr. Osborne then made the mistake of spreading his actors around the stage. A scene in a psychiatrist’s office featured doctor and patient separated by 20 feet. A later scene in an apartment was better, restricted by the length of the sofa on which the characters sat, though Mr. Osborne sent them walking off left and right when he could.

Almost the entire play is rapid-fire dialogue, and to make it work, the actors need to progress at a fast clip; what we get is more like a slow clop. The actors listen . . . think . . . respond after each line — leaving the jokes to hang in the air, waiting fruitlessly for some love. If the cast can tighten up they may be able to pull it off; as it is, there’s enough between-line silence here to power a small Beckett play.

The cast does OK. Ragan O’Reilly, who produced the play and stars as Prudence, the unlucky-in-love 30-something, looks suitably troubled with the goings on, but has trouble with the transitions to acceptance and, later, a sort of love. Her Prudence is a bit too repressed, like she just stepped off a Greyhound bus into the big city. Jeff Flowers’ Bruce is similarly uncomplicated; the actor too easily falls back on looking panicked and flailing his hands about.

Don Margolin fares the best as Bruce’s lover Bob, downplaying his lines instead of screeching them. Elaine Arnett plays Bruce’s therapist Mrs. Wallace, a Miss Malaprop whose psychology textbooks are all free of highlighting pens after the first chapter. Ms. Arnett is reminiscent of Katherine Helmond’s spaced-out character on “Soap” (there’s a ’70s reference for you), but is a bit restrained as an actor when her character needs to come unglued.

Rounding out the cast is Shelly Rosen as the lecherous Dr. Framingham, Prudence’s therapist and one-night stand. The doctor is a womanizer, yes, but Mr. Rosen goes way over the top and plays him as a virtual rapist, so dripping with misogyny that it’s hard to believe Prudence — or any woman — would have slept with him, let alone return to his office for another session.

In short, “Beyond Therapy” is long-winded and often grueling. Not what the doctor ordered.

BEYOND THERAPY
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Center Stage Theater, upstairs in the Paseo Nuevo mall
Cost: $15; $12 students
Information: 963-0408

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