Bay Theatre goes back in time for 'Beyond Therapy'

February 18, 2011|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Bay Theatre's current production of Christopher Durang's 1981 comedy "Beyond Therapy" is consistently beyond funny, often bordering on hysterical. The show may be humorously nostalgic to many of Bay's original fans, who saw the play when it was the company's first at Truxton Park in November 2002.

Now, at its cozy West Street location, Bay Theatre's ninth season revisits "Beyond Therapy." First-time Bay director Richard Pilcher instructs the audience on "navigating the Durangiverse" in his program notes, explaining that Durang's characters "operate outside the bounds of accepted behavior." But even if the characters act in a ridiculous way, their "behavior is rooted in a kind of honesty."

Bay's production is squarely placed in its original 1981 setting, which might date the frequently performed comedy. The characters use personal ads for dating and make references to 1980s swinging haunts such as the New York club Plato's Retreat. But writer Durang prefers his play, which was cutting-edge in 1981, be kept in its original period, and Bay's production does it, to excellent effect.

Designer Ken Sheats creates set changes for six scenes by moving a series of sliding panels, creating two distinct offices, two restaurants and an apartment. The minimal sets reflect the period with a bit of whimsical humor, and the women's costumes and hairstyles take the audience back 30 years.

The story centers around Bruce and Prudence, a lawyer and a magazine writer, respectively, who after placing personal ads meet at a restaurant for their first date. They are clearly mismatched: Lawyer Bruce almost immediately declares that he is a bisexual and moments later begins to cry for no apparent reason.

He tells Prudence that he wants to have a stable relationship with an understanding woman, hardly likely to be found with prim, homophobic Prudence.

Their first date ends disastrously, with each throwing water at the other before heading back for sessions with their respective psychotherapists — verbally challenged Charlotte Wallace, who is more confused than either Bruce or Prudence, and macho, arrogant Stuart Framingham.

Washington Shakespeare Company member Mundy Spears makes her Bay Theatre debut as Prudence, investing her character with the look and aura of a young career woman of the '80s. Spears' Prudence has a confident assertiveness that masks her insecurities, while conveying her honesty, idealism and impatience with male chauvinism and weakness. Spears also has impeccable comic timing and an ability to change moods instantly.

Also making his Bay Theatre debut, Graham Pilato is convincing as desperate, confused Bruce, who has notable chemistry with Spears' Prudence and a caring concern for his male lover, Bob. Pilato's Bruce is equally skilled in relating to his therapist, Wallace, helping decipher her tangled phrases.

As Wallace, Janet Luby reprises the role she played in 1992, when we discovered her formidable comedic talents. Luby is even more skilled now as she sputters out words like "porpoise, pompous" before getting the right word, or saying "dirigible" when she means "secretary" to hysterical effect. Luby also displayed her mastery of the ad-lib on opening night, when she found the wrong wall in place in her office.

Long a favorite with Bay audiences, Nigel Reed defines therapist Framingham, investing him with a stupendous macho image as he brags about his sexual prowess and shamelessly attempts to persuade Prudence to resume their brief and unsatisfying affair.

Peter Boyer, another Bay favorite, returns as Bob, investing his character with frustration, hurt and a strong will to survive, all with delightful comic undertones.

Alex Vaughan makes his Bay Theatre debut as Andrew, a waiter who appears late in the play but leaves a lasting and memorable impression.

If you go

"Beyond Therapy" continues weekends through March 20, 275 West St., Annapolis. Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors and students. Information: 410-268-1333 or

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