On Friday evening, August 24, I went to Waterbury Center to see a production of Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy in a production by a company new to me, the Waterbury Festival Players. (Their performance space is to be found just off Route 100, beyond the chocolate manufacturer and Hookers Furniture, on the left.) They work out of a stationary fabric structure in which they are able to have sufficient theatrical lighting and a large playing area that seems to be permanent -- it is certainly one way to build yourself a home for theater without all of the enormous costs of erecting a traditional building from scratch-- and it is air-conditioned.
One of the first things I notice about a theater group, whether at home or on tour, is its punctuality. Allowing for the fact that my watch may not be 100% accurate and/or chronometrically accurate to a nano- second, according to all the devices I had at my disposal, they were late starting. In fact nearly 10 minutes late. That tardiness was reflected in the pacing of the perfor-mance in general. But more about that later.
As to Durang's play: It seems to me that it is not a long play, and audiences being inured as they are to intermissionless one-act plays today that have play times of approximately an hour and a half (on average), I see no reason not to run it straight through. It is the essence of this play that it should feel movielike, with quick cuts, quick blackouts to end scenes, and quick starts to subsequent scenes, almost going so far as to overlap the dialogue from one section of the stage just as the beginning dialogue on another section of the stage is closing, accompanied by a blackout and lights up simultaneously. This company had preset all four sets and only needed to reset the final two restaurant scenes. They could have managed to preset this, however, if they had been so motivated--that is if they felt the same urgency in tempo that I believe to be inherent in the script.
There are lines in the play that may have been com- prehensible in 1987, but which never got the laughter they deserved because, for one instance, the reference in a line goes back to the 1920s and 1930s. I'm speaking here of a reference to Marie of Rumania, who became synonymous for all royalty exiled to the United States (there is a whole genre of drawing-room comedies in 1930s American films about penurious aristocrats). With all the geopolitical changes of the last 30 years, there certainly must be a ruler around who's well enough known to substitute for the now-forgotten Marie. There are several other references which escape my mind right now, but they too are odd and out of time, and did not result in any laughter either. It doesn't mean a playwright has to a text, but subtle updates might be called for in places.
As I watched the play, I realized that the performances given by the members of this cast can, for the most part, focus on the whole or just one particular quality of a character that Durang has brought to life. For example, Megan Carder gave an excellent accounting of Mrs. Charlotte Wallace, one of the two therapists in the show. She hit all the right notes, scoring a great reaction from the audience. Her performance contained so many original idiosyncratic touches it lit up the stage.
On the other hand, Jason P. Lorber's portrayal of Bruce, the plays protagonist, was too physically and vocally ambivalent from the outset, thereby undercutting some of the humor of the play.
At least, thank goodness, he was not as overly aware of the fact that his character and his portrayal of same were supposed to be "funny," the way that Geoffrey Stewart was with his characterization of Dr. Stuart Framingham. Stewart did not seem the least bit amusing to me, and his relationship with Prudence (Jana Beagley) was far too aggressive to be funny or to be taken as ambivalent. Maybe the cowboy shirt, jeans, and boots were meant to help him find his character, but they didn't.
On the other hand, although she was not consistent Beagley had her character down quite well. I did not like the qualities of Bob as played by Marcel Fred: they seemed self-consciously created for the sole purpose of garnering cheap laughs. And even though Freda is a good actor who tries to show the subtleties beneath the surface of character, the surface here was too gaudy even for his usually reliable efforts to tone down.
In the role of Andrew, Tom Carder did quite a nice job, a nice exception to what seemed the rule of the evening.
The pacing of the show was somewhat lackadaisical. This is not inherent in Mr. Durangs writing. That problem belonged solely to Tom Carders direction. Interesting, given his fine performance on stage.
Carder earns several lumps as the plays direction: one for the aforementioned off tempo feel of the show, and he other for his direction of Jason Lorber as Bob.
Beyond Therapy is actually quite a delightful play very true to the human condition. But when it hurtles headfirst into caricature, thats where the problems start. The production loses its momentum and its humor, though I did laugh often, several times surprisingly aloud.
The sets, costumes, and lightning for the production were all adequate. The properties person worked quickly and effectively. The choice of music, especially those pieces selected as the curtain entracte music for each act, was particularly delightful and appropriate.
The seats are comfortable, the distance to the stage reasonable from any seat in the house, and even with the 7:30 p.m. curtain one can find a good place either in Waterbury or Stowe to enjoy a fine pre-theater dinner.
Next up the Festival Players will be presenting a mystery entitled Murder Mistaken, which will run in September and October. You can call 802-498-3755 for tickets order them online at www.WaterburyFestival Players.com for tickets.