Summary: Bruce and Prudence are deeply into therapy. Prudence’s macho therapist is urging her to be more assertive while Bruce’s wacky female therapist wants him to meet women by placing a personal ad. She does not fully comprehend that Bruce has a male lover who is not pleased by Bruce’s desire to date a woman: Prudence. Bruce doesn’t know how to handle poor nervous Prudence and Prudence doesn’t know what to make of her unpredictable new boyfriend. They do learn to live beyond therapy in this delightful Off Broadway hit that moved successfully to Broadway.
Beyond Therapy, by Christopher Durang 7.5
“Don’t be afraid to sound pathological. That’s what I’ve learned from my therapy so far.”
I decided to read Christopher Durang’s play ‘Beyond Therapy’ after watching Robert Altman’s version of it some months ago. When I started researching the film for my blurb, I discovered that it had been broadly adapted and that Durang was really not pleased with the end result.
Since I already felt that the material had potential, but that the picture wasn’t all that it could have been, I was pulled to its source of origin; I figured that there was a chance that what made it appealing in the first place, its wacky characters and dialogues, would be highlighted in the playwright’s work.
From the first pages it had me in stitches. I rarely laugh out loud whilst on public transit, but I just couldn’t help myself: Durang has brought together such an absurd collection of neurotics that it was impossible not to. Not since Woody Allen’s pre-‘Annie Hall’ days was there such dysfunction.
The characters are very similar to the film’s, but in the play they are strictly a core complement of five:
“I don’t think you’re a mutant at all. I mean, I think you’re very attractive.”
1. Bruce is a bisexual man who would ideally like to get married with a woman and keep a male lover on the side. He is very eager to please and tries all too hard to connect with Prudence, making his efforts seem either desperate or insincere.
“Please don’t be so hard on yourself on my account. Everyone’s stupid, so you’re just like everybody else.”
2. Prudence is sweet but she comes off as naïve and a bit conservative in some of her views. If anything, she seems far too uptight for Bruce, who is looking for an alternative relationship model. But she’s eager to be loved and will likely compromise herself for the attention.
“Goddam it. I don’t feel like dragging the words out of you this week. Talk, damn it. You pay me to listen, so TALK! I’m sorry, I’m on edge today. And all my patients are this way. None of them talk. Well this one guy talks, but he talks in Yiddish a lot, and I don’t know what the fuck he’s saying.”
3. Stuart is Prudence’s therapist and former lover. He’s an egotist who can only think of his own best interest, hence the ethical breach with Prudence. He’s lascivious but also jealous, which complicates matters given that he’s supposed to help her with her own emotional issues.
“I got a filing cabinet caught in my throat… I don’t mean a filing cabinet. What do I mean? Filing cabinet, frying pan, frog’s eggs, faculty wives, frankincense, fornication, follies bergère, falling falling fork, fish fork, fish bone. I got a fish bone caught in my throat.”
4. Charlotte is Bruce’s therapist. Unlike Stuart, she’s got good intentions, but she comes off as a basket case, sometimes using a Snoopy doll to communicate with her patients. She frequently gets confused and uses the wrong words, stopping mid-sentence to unearth the one she was actually trying to use.
“Bruce says that I will like you if I can just get past my initial hostility.”
5. Bob is Bruce’s live-in boyfriend. He’s trying really hard to be understanding of Bruce’s demands and needs, but it’s proving to be a challenge. Not only does his anger flare up, understandably, but he also has a mother who won’t stop meddling in his/their affairs.
Durang’s ‘Beyond Therapy’ focuses primarily on our main duo of Bruce and Charlotte – whereas the Altman version adds a few faces to the mix and divides its attention a bit more evenly. With a few exceptions, it is about the awkward romance that is developing in fits and starts between them.
Predictably, given that it’s a play, the humour primarily comes from the dialogues, from the characters many quirks and the way that they reflect off each other; the whole lot of them are massively neurotic so one can easily imagine how unusual their exchanges can get. Add a few twists of absurdist humour and you’ve got the makings of a good time.
‘Beyond Therapy’ is relatively short, which lead me to wonder how long it would play out on stage. It turns out that some productions run in the area of two hours or so, including an intermission. How this can be given that the film is 90 minutes long and has extra padding, I don’t know, but I’d love to see it performed some day. I’d love to see what actors would bring to these parts.
While it loses steam towards the end, Charles Durang’s ‘Beyond Therapy’ is a lot of fun for people who love Woody Allen-esque characters. The humour is largely different, but they’re cousins of sorts. Most importantly, it’s superior to Altman’s interpretation. But that’s partly because this is the unadapted play; on paper things often look better than they do in reality.