Fort Worth — Dating can be stressful. But when therapy offers no respite, things get really off the wall in Stage West’s irreverently hilarious production of Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy.
Rapidly approaching her 30’s, Prudence (Dana Schultes) is getting desperate in her attempts to settle down. This drives her into the uncertain world of the 1980’s version of online dating: answering personal ads in the paper.
Through this, she meets Bruce (Mark Shum), who seems nice enough on the outset but soon proves to be a complete emotional wreck who cries a lot and is startlingly abrupt and honest. One revaluation of this abruptness is his early declaration that he is, in fact, bisexual and has been happily living with a man, Bob (Tyler Martin), for the last year. The date does not go well.
The audience is then introduced to the two character’s therapist. Prudence sees the smarmy, cowboy wannabe Dr. Stuart Framingham (Jakie Cabe), and Bruce sees the delightfully flighty Mrs. Charlotte Wallace (Amber Devlin).
Eventually all paths intersect, laying the groundwork for a fierce commentary on both dating and the 80’s therapy craze. It is wickedly clever in its destruction of culture.
Director Jim Covault has assembled a keen cast. Cabe and Shum cut a deep contrast between their affection for Prudence. Shum is incredibly earnest and genuine while still managing to be generally uncomfortable and off-putting. It’s a delicate balance that he pulls of masterfully. Conversely, Cabe is a strong veneer of false machismo hiding a frail, insecure interior. As the outer shell cracks, it is both satisfying and sympathetically sad.
Schultes might as well have stepped right out of a Whit Stillman movie. She’s perfect, from her rich costumes and fabulous hair, all the way down to the uncomfortable strong-woman cloak masking a genuine fear of not conforming. Her (comic) inner struggle is deftly crafted.
Devlin is pure, ebullient bliss. Like her patient Bruce, Mrs. Wallace is an uncomfortable breath of fresh but forgetful air as she fully embraces life and every situation it throws at her. The opposite of risk-averse, she constantly throws herself into things with glee, which Devlin so perfectly captures in her performance. It’s one of those roles that looks like a hell of a lot of fun to play, which is completely sold by Devlin’s colorful performance.
Rounding out a stellar cast, Martin’s Bob is an excruciatingly empathetic character who challenges that commiseration with the audience by acting psychotic at times. Bob is that person who is perfectly fine and normal when contented, but who crumbles at the slightest flash on conflict. Martin’s ability to communicate this transition simply by his gestures and facial expressions is smoldering in its effectiveness.
Durang is one of the great contemporary playwrights, and it’s easy to see why in this show. Despite being specifically dated to the 1980’s, the dialogue itself is timeless and clever. Combine that with Covault’s pitch-perfect cast, and it makes for a raucous and fun evening that will leave you happy and humming synth-laced hits all the way home.