NEW YORK -- Christopher Durang may become our funniest playwright since George S. Kaufman, but his 'Beyond Therapy' is a non-play.
'Beyond Therapy,' first seen last year at the Off Broadway Phoenix Theater which commissioned the work, opened on Broadway May 26 at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.
It remains what it was then, a plotless, faulty, funny, outrageous satire on psychiatry, with Durang even identifying his own therapist in his program biography (an 'in' joke?).
The story, such as it is, involves Bruce, a bisexual who wants to get married while keeping his live-in male lover at the same time, and Prudence, who meets him on two blind dates in answer to his newspaper personal ads.
But the main characters are their respective therapists, both totally off the wall but instantly recognizable by anyone who ever has been in therapy (or so I am told).
Prudence's psychiatrist, Stuart, is a sex fiend whose treatment consists mostly of seducing his woman patients. He dances a little Hitler-like jig of self-congratulation, then gets apoplectic when Prudence intimates that Bruce is a more concerned lover. Though she has no intention of sleeping with him any more, Prudence is bullied into continuing her visits by the hoary device of his claiming she is at a crucial point in the therapy.
Bruce's therapist, Charlotte, is a children's specialist who uses a Snoopy doll to kiss her patients better when they cry, hates gays, and has aphasia. Some of Durang's biggest (and cheapest) laughs come as she free associates in an effort to remember words like 'patient' and 'secretary.'
The casting is immaculate: Dianne Wiest is confused and buffeted as Prudence, the only near-normal character in the play; Bruce is John Lithgow, delightfully vague, totally unpredictable and prone to sudden enthusiasms and crying jags; Kate McGregor-Stewart rivals Beatrice Lillie as the child psychiatrist whose patients have had more effect on her than vice versa; and Peter Michael Goetz is a riot as the problem-ridden Stuart.
John Madden was the able director and Andrew Jackness the designer whose many scene changes slide into view from behind and in front of a false proscenium.
Lots of laughs, but mostly sound and fury, with none of the characters either explained or sympathetic. Inconsistency is rampant.
Most of the people involved in the show went to Yale or Harvard or (like Durang) to both. Stuart and Charlotte might think that significant.
David Pownall's 'Livingstone and Sechele' is the story of Scottish missionary-explorer David Livingstone and the wily African chieftain Sechele, Livingstone's only convert to Christianity.
The play is having its American premiere at the Quaigh Theater, where an Off Off Broadway showcase production was extended May 10 into a full-fledged Off Broadway commercial run.
Though Sechele is attracted by some of the Old Testament characters, his 'conversion' to Christianity is principally political: he hopes to keep Livingstone beside him with the promise of converting his entire Bakwena tribe and thus obtain the protection -- and hopefully the guns -- of the newly arrived Europeans. He still half-believes in the old magic, specially when spurred by his fourth wife Mokokon, a non-believer who quotes Scripture to confound Livingstone and whom Sechele divorces when Livingstone makes it a condition of his baptism.
Livingstone is a more shadowy figure, whose missionary zeal is waning and whose urge to explore the country is redoubled when he finds Sechele has been lying to him about the nature of the country to the north.
'Livingstone and Sechele' is an interesting sidelight on history, a clash of wills and beliefs, with Sechele symbolic of the pragmatic reaction of Africans to 19th century European colonization.