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[whitespace] Beyond Therapy
Couch Cast: Bruce (Brian Ruf, left) is at the apex of a love triangle as he is torn between Bob (Steve Gold) and Prudence (Stacy K. Stafford) in Christopher Durang's 'Beyond Therapy.'

Everybody is 'Beyond Therapy' in Durang satire

By Heather Zimmerman

THE CONFUSED and therapy-dependent trio at the center of Beyond Therapy could have inspired the New Order song "Bizarre Love Triangle," but George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" is the unofficial theme song of Christopher Durang's screwball satire on relationships and psychology. City Lights Theater Company successfully plays the screwiness for all it's worth in this tale of Prudence (Stacy K. Stafford), who meets Bruce (Brian Ruf) through a personal ad, only to discover that Bruce has already been living with Bob (Steve Gold) for a year. Prudence's favorite song, "Someone to Watch Over Me," proves prophetic as Bruce proclaims on several occasions that he wants to "take care of" her, and Dr. Framingham (Derek McCaw), Prudence's therapist, purports to be looking out for her best interests.

The play's therapists--needy, libidinous Dr. Framingham and self-indulgent, scatterbrained Mrs. Wallace (Linda Jones)--are predictably far more troubled than their patients. Dr. Framingham subtly undermines Prudence's relationships to keep her in therapy; Mrs. Wallace can barely remember who Bruce is, and her method of encouraging a childish self-indulgence in her patients leads to things getting out of hand when she counsels Bob.

Director Ross Nelson has given the comedy the breakneck pace it needs, while still allowing time to appreciate Durang's witty dialogue. Together, Stafford, Ruf and Gold have a wonderful tense chemistry, consistently playing various neuroses well off of each other. McCaw oozes an easily perturbed over-confidence, and Jones plays her counselor as a kindergarten teacher on acid. Crucial to the play's central theme, however, neither therapist deliberately sets out to cause trouble; like everyone else, they can't help themselves.

In other words, Prudence, Bruce, Bob, their therapists and most other humans are beyond therapy. Everyone is screwed up, and most likely no amount of getting to know one's inner child can change that. By having his characters make such declarations in restaurant scenes with waiters who take nearly as long as Godot to appear, Durang serves up an all-out dose of '90s existentialism--as he coyly has Prudence point out. Prudence, Bruce and Bob could be masters of their own destinies, if only they would allow themselves to be. And Durang seems to champion a similar approach for most people who are "screwed up" in the way that these characters are--that is, simply human.


Beyond Therapy plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm through Aug. 15 at City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $15/$12. (408/295-4200)

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From the July 23-29, 1998 issue of Metro.

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