Written by: Christopher Durang
Directed by: Glenda Stirling
Starring: Graduating BFA Acting Class of 2016
Theatre: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Running: October 15-24, 2015 @ 7:30pm
Student Price: $12
Studio Theatre’s 2015/16 season opens with a hilarious exploration of the absurdity present in everyday experiences that is often taken for granted.
Beyond Therapy, written by Christopher Durang, follows troubled Manhattanites Prudence and Bruce as they try to find love with the help their psychiatrists, who appear even more unstable than their patients. As if the characters’ personalities weren’t enough, Bruce’s lover, Bob, further complicates the situation. While the plot itself is not ridiculous, Studio Theatre certainly pushes the limits of absurdity with this production.
If the play’s characters were to be described in one word, it would be outrageous. But the reason they are outrageous is the flawless commitment that the actors had throughout the production. The characters’ emotions are conveyed through their movements that, while unnatural, are so extreme they dramatically enhance the comedy of the play.
The insane portrayal of the characters effectively reflects director Stirling’s vision for the production: to convey the absurdity of real life situations that we are unable to see the comedy of until we are “safely on the other side.” Specifically, while Carmen Nieuwenhuis’ portrayal of the neurotic Prudence, who is seen drinking large quantities of wine and falling onto the floor or nearby couches as a result of tense situations, seems absolutely ridiculous, the character is also strangely relatable.
The rest of the characters may not be as relatable, but they are all just as entertaining. It is impossible not to laugh at the frequent emotional outbreaks of Bruce, played by Jordan Sabo, which are uncomfortably hilarious.
However manic these two characters appear, their actions are somewhat justified once we meet their outrageous psychiatrists Stuart and Charlotte, played by Corben Kushneryk and Kristen Padayas respectively. From the animalistic advances of Stuart to the awkward gestures Charlotte uses to remember words, the audience can feel safe to laugh at them from the ‘other side,’ where we are not their patients in real life.
The atmosphere of the production transports the audience back to the early 80s, complete with music and dancers during scene changes. The set was surprisingly complex given the number of times it needed to be changed. However, this did not take away from the production at all. In some cases the way the actors changed the scene added to the comedy of the production.
The costuming choices reflect the nature of the production as well. The brightly coloured, and in the case of Charlotte, often eccentric clothing mirrored the plays extremely lively mood. This mood was very clearly felt by the audience, who reacted to the production in an equally lively manner. In many instances it felt that the audience’s reactions were part of the show itself.
With its comedy and absurdity, Beyond Therapy provides a strong opener to what is sure to be an excellent season from Studio Theatre.