Talented actors mesh in comedy of cozy couches

Theater: A new company makes it debut with Christopher Durang's `Beyond Therapy.'

December 19, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After completing a successful two-weekend inaugural run of Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy, the Bay Theatre Company now seems established as a dynamic presence on the Annapolis scene.

In its first weeks of operation, this new company has created theater magic - first by transforming a nondescript space in Truxtun Park's Griscom Building into a cozy theater, then by selling every seat Saturday evening.

Formed by Annapolis residents Lucinda Merry-Browne and Janet Luby, the company has set the bar high with this production that features a talented repertory group of actors who have a wonderful time becoming the characters they play.

First produced in 1981, Beyond Therapy is a comic look at self-absorbed life in Manhattan in the 1970s. It centers on lawyer Bruce and People magazine writer Prudence, who get together through the personal ads, meet face to face at a restaurant seemingly without waiters - and retreat to their respective therapists.

What ensues is a series of romantic complications that entangle both patients, therapists and even Bruce's roommate. Bay Theatre Company's cast is so skilled that the actors not only assume the identities of their characters but also interact brilliantly with each other.

As Prudence, Julie Richman is superb conveying her character's vulnerability and confusion as well as her assertiveness and defiance bordering on desperation. Richman conveys this range of emotions in rapid succession, sometimes in monologues, transforming herself physically from softly accepting to a furious patient who will brook no nonsense.

Jonas Grey is just as fearless in his multidimensional portrayal of Bruce, pulling out all the stops to create this seemingly open character who is filled with contradictions.

With some of the best comic lines in the play, Luby steals nearly every scene as Charlotte Wallace, Bruce's therapist. She is unable to recall names of things or patients and is beset by malapropisms while hugging her Snoopy dog, and she hilariously spouts expletives unsuitable for print. Luby is magnificent.

As Prudence's chauvinistic, playboy therapist Stuart Framingham, Tim King is perfect, conveying an astonishing range of emotion as he tries to resume an affair with Prudence. His sexual inadequacies infuriate him, becoming the source of high comedy.

Ken Arnold proves the consummate ensemble player as Bruce's roommate and lover, Bob, brilliantly playing off the other characters and even his unseen mother via some remarkable telephone conversations. Last on the scene, Evan Baxter is excellent as the sociopathic waiter.

Managing and Artistic Director Lucinda Merry-Browne deserves high marks. Based on the success of her inaugural venture, I look forward to coming offerings. Next will be Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster, at First Night Annapolis. In February, Merry-Browne plans to offer a to-be-announced production at Loew's Hotel in downtown Annapolis.

Information: 410-263-6671.

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