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Beyond Therapy Tantalizes at the Tides

left to right: James Duus, Joseph Feerick, Michelle Coffaro, Peter Scarpinato, Lorelei, Patrick Reilly. (Photo courtesy of As The Grove

 One of the great delights of summer is a brief escape from the Grove' glorious campiness to the subterranean little black box space at the Tides Restaurant in which Richard La  France's hard working Island Repertory Theatre company continues to recreate the miracle of legitimate theater

The not-for-profit theatre company is dedicated to Its mission  to present" time-honored and new plays that chronicle the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience."

It is easy to see why Christopher Durang's freewheeling farce about relationships might have failed when it first hit Broadway in the conservative 80's, although it had better luck with the less constricted audiences when it premiered  Off Broadway at the Phoenix Theatre on January 1, 1981 featuring a young Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Collins. Rex Reed of the New York Daily News said "One of the funniest plays I've ever seen." The dark comedy proved so popular it moved to the Walter Kerr Theatre with John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest.. Robert Altman made a film for New World in 1987 with Glenda Jackson, Jeff Goldblum and Julie Hagerty. It tanked very early in the release and is rarely seen on television today.

Some critics have considered the multi-talented playwright/actor the funniest playwright alive today. An "acquired taste", Durang has been both trashed and exalted since writing over 1000 one act plays and 40 full length quirky comedies. Beyond Therapy is his most popular and sunniest comedies.

Preceded appropriated by the pre-show music "Someone To Watch Over Me" , the play's preoccupation with the complexities of coupling  that drove almost everyone to the analysts' couch is presented in such a way that audiences could translate that angst  into hetero, homo and bi sexual connections. Two mismatched people, Prudence (Michelle Coffaro) and Bruce (Peter Scarpinato), each hoping to find a lasting relationship, are urged by their respective therapists, Stuart (Patrick Reilly) and Charlotte (Lorelei) to put a personal ad in the paper for a mate (the equivalent of today's Internet Dating). Bruce and Prudence meet in a restaurant and the date is a disaster. Conversation is delivered in During's Mamet-esque shorthand of ricocheting clichés. Bruce says "I hope I'm not too macho for you" and then lapses into crying jags and then  casually reveals he has a male lover, Bob (James Duus), It is an adventure to watch Prudence's face as each deterrent is thrown at her and her determination to tough out. The situation however degenerates into hurled accusations: "You are a first class idiot (Prudence)" vs. "You are a castrating bitch (Bruce)" and the scene concludes with each throwing water in each other's face (an apparently popular trend in the Grove)

"We're in desperate need of some therapy here"  (an understatement) concludes the first act.

 We learn that poor Prudence is afflicted/conflicted over the unseemly aggression of her therapist, Stuart, with whom she has had disastrous sex (he is a premature ejaculator  - "I do it on purpose because we live in such a fast paced society"). Bruce's therapist, Charlotte, also a mental case, (Durang's take on psychotherapists is hilarious) has trouble thinking of simple words like "patient" (she sputters out "porpoise, pompous, pom-pom" before getting it right). She also talks through the Snoopy doll that is always at her side and occasionally lapses into "ruff, ruff, ruff."

Poor Prudence is faced with odd choices: a premie vs a bisexual misfit but she is so blinded by irrational idealism (similar to the unfortunate but loveable heroine in Sweet Charity) she again submits and answers an ad only to find Bruce again in the same restaurant - a place with lots of water and no service.

left to right): James Duus, Joseph Feerick (standing) Michelle Coffaro, Peter Scarpinato, Patrick Reilly, Lorelei. (Photo courtesy of As The Grove

Like Alice in a bizarre sexual Wonderland of misfits, Prudence is determined to stick it out with Bruce as they overcome their initial loathing and begin to like each other until the male lover, Bob (James Duus), rejects their relationship, ends up in therapy with Charlotte. The whole shambles ends up in a mad restaurant scene they all meet: Stuart& Charlotte, Bruce& Prudence, Bob and the finally appearing, sexy waiter (Joseph Feerick) where screaming and shootings take place, and Bruce and Prudence almost get together, humming "Someone to Watch Over Me."

One keeps asking why don't these characters leave when confronted with these unacceptable romantic glitches but their desperate need for love and myopic optimism  keeps them clinging to the hope that they can work it out despite insurmountable odds in this scathing satire of psychoanalysts and their pathetic patients.

Only LaFrance's taut direction keeps this over-the-top play from careening into chaos. That and the extreme focus of the talented cast: Michelle Coffaro (The Food Chain, The Vagina Monologues) from Bayport, her 3rd play with the company, who's mobile face reflects the ever changing landscape of her feelings (an ability honed in her professional life working with the deaf) MIchelle keeps returning to the island "because the audiences here are better". Peter Scarpinato (The Last Sunday in June, Slap & Tickle) also in his 3rd play, began acting in the 8th grade and hasn't stopped since while continuing his career as a social worker. Lorelei (Comedy Tonight, The Food Chain) 3rd play, is primarily a stand up comic and has regaled audiences with her direct humor at the Tides. Patrick Reilly (The Last Sunday in June, Slap & Tickle) an attorney by day, obviously enjoys his escape into the crazy world of theater, especially in this play. Island Rep veterans James Duus (The Boys In The Band, Six For The Show The Food Chain, Slap & Tickle, The Last Sunday in June) is hysterically high strung and neurotic and Joseph Feerick (End of The World Party, The Boys In The Band, Six For The Show, The Last Sunday in June.) makes the most of his surprise ending role as a sexy waiter.

Credit must go the hardworking Production team:  lighting designer Wendy Range, technical director Michael Spina, and stage manager Wendy Lewis.

Remaining performances: June 30 (8pm), July 1 (8pm), July 2 (8pm).

Next: James Edwin Parker's "Two Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night," directed by David Drake, set to run from September 1-17 at the Tides.