Enjoying `Reverse Psychology'

Theater: The laughs roll at AXIS Theatre when a couple enjoys affairs with each other's analyst.

April 10, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

If I were going to employ "Reverse Psychology" -- the title of Charles Ludlam's 1980 play -- I'd advise readers to stay away from AXIS Theatre's production at all costs. And, of course, I'd be secretly hoping audiences would flock to it.

Director Tony Tsendeas' wacky production of this send-up of therapists and romance is a prescription guaranteed to induce laughter. The director has staged Ludlam's comedy with all the careful attention to detail and slick production values that characterize the work of his own company, Action Theater.

Consider, for example, the giant pink pills scattered like jolly polka dots along the proscenium arch of designer David M. Barber's set. Or the music Mark Harp has composed to introduce each scene. ("Let's all go to the lobby now," the lyrics proclaim at intermission, before applying their own dose of reverse psychology and suggesting, "OK. Just sit there.")

Written by the late founder of New York's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, "Reverse Psychology" focuses on a husband and wife who are having affairs with each other's psychiatrists. Sharol Buck is giddily expressive as Dr. Gold, who is all too ready to spill the beans about her sickest patients; Mark Bernier hovers on the edge of lunacy as her frequently hysterical husband, Dr. Silver; Randolph Hadaway seethes and preens as a starving artist; and Melissa Meyd exudes self-absorption as his wife and model, who often finds herself posing in bondage.

Ludlam's script reaches its comic peak in the second act, when the two cheating couples discover they have stolen away to the same resort hotel. Ludlam liked to spoof great literature, and the act pays tribute to Noel Coward's "Private Lives." And, after the lovers take a drug causing them to fall for the person to whom they are least attracted, the act also calls to mind "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The script isn't as tightly structured as Ludlam's better-known "The Mystery of Irma Vep," which was seen earlier this season in a madcap production at Columbia's Rep Stage. But AXIS' "Reverse Psychology" is a session of high-spirited hilarity -- and that's the straight dope.

Show times at AXIS, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 30. Tickets are $12 and $14. Call 410-243-5237.

Seniors at play

Some of the most enthusiastic theater audiences are made up of senior citizens, but many seniors are physically unable to get to plays. Now a new local company is taking theater to them.

Last summer, actors Brian Chetelat and Joan Weber co-founded Theater on the Air, a company that tours retirement communities and senior centers throughout the area. The company's name comes from its performance style. The plays are presented as radio dramas, using antique microphones and sound effects. The actors portray their counterparts in the 1930s, '40s or '50s, depending on the decade in which the play was written.

So far, Theater on the Air has toured three productions -- a 90-minute version of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap," a holiday episode of "Fibber McGee and Mollie" and its current production, a combined bill of "Sorry, Wrong Number," by Eastern Shore resident Louise Fletcher, and an episode of "Our Miss Brooks."

"We're getting as much reward from it, I think, as the people that we're taking it to," said Chetelat, adding that the company hopes to also visit centers for the blind.

Recently, Theater on the Air chose AXIS Theatre as its home base. Two benefit performances of "Sorry, Wrong Number" and the "Our Miss Brooks" episode will be presented at 8 tonight and tomorrow night at AXIS, 3600 Clipper Mill Road. A $10 donation is suggested. Theater on the Air also is looking for additional company members and is eager to alert local senior centers interested in future bookings. Call 410-243-5237, extension 320.

Don't mean a thing

The Morris A. Mechanic Theatre will present the Broadway musical revue, "Swing!" as the sixth show in its 2000-2001 season. The musical, which opened at the St. James Theater in December, features more than 30 dance numbers that typify the current neo-swing craze.

The score features standards by such songwriters as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, as well as original music by British pop singer/songwriter Everett Bradley, jazz singer/songwriter Ann Hampton Cal- laway, and big band leader Casey MacGill. Direction and choreography are by Lynne Taylor-Corbett.

"Swing!" will play the Mechanic March 13-18. It completes the previously announced season line-up: "Fosse" (Sept. 19-24), "Tallulah" (Nov. 7-12), "Cinderella" (Dec. 12-24), "Amadeus" (Jan. 23-28) and "Ragtime" (March 27-April 1). Subscriptions to the six-show season go on sale at the end of the month and range from $119 to $443.50. Call 800-343-3103.

Coppin arts festival

"Afrocentric XII: Love, Life, Laughter," the 12th annual cultural arts festival at Coppin State College, will be held April 14-16 to raise funds for the Coppin Players, Dancers and Choir.

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