From the intimate setting of North London’s Hen & Chickens theatre bar, on a warm June afternoon here in 2010, it seems almost too obvious a point to make that in this Theatre 6 production of Christopher Durang’s classic comedy, Beyond Therapy has come a fair distance from its 1980s New York City genesis.
Beyond Therapy is one part period piece, to one part rom com, to two parts satire, with more than a dash of the absurd. Set in the early 1980s, it follows the love affair of Prudence (Heather Gibbs) and Bruce (Tristan Mathiae), two neurotic thirty-something New Yorkers, after the former answers the latter’s personal ad, twice! Prudence and Bruce’s nascent relationship is predicated upon their dubious desires for a traditional family life, which they are prodded toward by each of their zany therapists, Dr. Framingham (Nick Whitley) and Mrs Wallace (Felicity Davidson). Their relationship is complicated by Prudence’s fleeting affair with Dr Framingham, and the existence of Bruce’s unhappy live-in-lover, Bob (Alexander Moschos).
Beyond Therapy is hilarious – its mix of satire with physical comedy, witty dialogue with the absurd, certainly makes it fun to watch. On one level, there is something overridingly comfortable about it – like an old movie you watch on TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon, infused with the astuteness and humour of an Oscar Wilde play.
The cast was strong, and all of the actors seemed fully committed to making their characters as big and as possible. Davidson’s Mrs Wallace and Moschos’s Bob were certainly highlights, both in their frantic scenes together (my favourites) and separately. Davidson’s high-energy insanity was a joy to watch, her American accent always inscrutable no matter how manically quick she spoke. While Moschos played his awkward part perfectly, often allowing his character to be the most relatable, entertaining person on the stage.
That said, however, something about this play didn’t sit quite right with me. One of my greatest complaints about the play – that it seems somewhat hollow at its centre – can also be written off as indicative of its success – for, perhaps, so too is the society it lampoons so well.
More problematic is its disconnect – the way this production was played, it felt very much like a period piece, even if Moschos could have walked straight off stage in costume and down to Shoreditch without looking out of place. This production does not attempt to make itself relevant to us here, thirty years later. In fact, it relies on a certain distance – a wink-nudge to an audience which knows that it’s okay to laugh with the superiority of belonging to a different world. The thing, however, is, that the issues of Beyond Therapy, while dressed in another decade’s clothes, are more relevant to us than we’d like to think – we’re still slaves to our desires, especially when don’t know what they are; homophobia, misogyny, and societal pressures to conform are all still issues with which we contend, if often in a less explicit fashion. As amusing as Theatre 6’s production of Beyond Therapy was, it would have resonated much more strongly had it allowed the audience to connect with its subjects, rather than just laugh at them as relics of a place and time which aren’t really so far away after all.