Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Off Broadway: Love Therapy

L-R: Alison Fraser and Janet Zarish in LOVE THERAPY.  Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Love Therapy by Wendy Beckett, now premiering at the DR2 Theatre in downtown Manhattan, is just 85 minutes long without an intermission – or perhaps a few minutes longer if we one includes the time in which the audience sits wondering whether or not the play truly has ended.  And, indeed, it is not until the cast emerges on stage to take their curtain calls that one really can be sure that the play is over.

This is more of an idea for a play than a fully realized one.  Ms. Beckett has drawn several bright lines delineating the play’s major themes – including the search for “authenticity,” the limitations of love and sympathy in seeking therapeutic solutions to life’s crises, and the conflict that exists between playing by the rules and giving vent to one’s emotions – and she does a fine job of coloring in the areas between the lines.  But one never can be sure that the colors used were the right ones and that it’s all not a pack of lies to begin with.

Colleen Fitzgerald (Margot White) is a psychologist and marriage counselor who believes that successful therapeutic results can only be achieved through a combination of “authenticity” and “love” on the part of the therapist, and who is more than willing to bend, if not break, the rules of her profession to that end.  Her patients (or “clients” as she prefers to refer to them) include Steven Jones (David Bishins), a womanizer who has been referred to Colleen by his wife; Brian Beatie (Christopher Burns), an angry and violent man whose business is more important to him than is his marriage; and Mary (Janet Zarish), who is suffering from severe depression in the wake of the loss of both her daughter and her husband.

David claims to support mistresses (which he suggests is the reason his wife has urged him to go into marriage counseling) but not to frequent prostitutes, although he subsequently reveals that his wife herself was once a prostitute and, anyway, it might not have been his infidelities but rather the loss of a child that prompted him to seek Colleen’s help in the first place.  Or, for all we know, none of that may be true.  Additionally, David initially contends that he does not find Colleen at all attractive – she’s just not his type – which is one reason that he chose her to be his therapist.  As matters develop, that turns out to be blatantly untrue, and it is Colleen’s relationship with him that ultimately threatens her professional career. 

Brian is an overtly misogynistic, angry, and violent man, willing to accede to a divorce from his wife if that won’t entail his having to sell his company.  Colleen is aware of his violent nature but fails to take any action in light of it which, the audience is led to assume, may have led to serious adverse consequences for his wife.  Or maybe not.  Again we really are left in the dark.

Mary, Colleen’s most deranged “client,” recently lost her adult daughter in a car crash, the car having been driven by Mary’s husband, which explains Mary’s depression and Colleen’s willingness to violate the rules of her profession by involving herself in the dispensation of drugs to Mary in a misguided but compassionate attempt to alleviate Mary’s misery..  Mary’s husband died, too, but the circumstances of his death are less clear – which leaves us with yet another mystery to unravel.

And there even are some mysteries involving Colleen herself.  Her abilities as a marriage counselor apparently didn’t extend to her own life: she is a divorcee.  And if it was her childhood that made her what she is today, what exactly is that anyway? Is she a woman who loves too much or one who is unable to love at all?

And that about sums up the play’s strengths and weaknesses.  On the plus side, it is rife with mysteries, uncertainties, and surprises, just the stuff of which fine plays are made.  But on the negative side, it never fully resolves the questions it raises, and so it ultimately comes across as disappointingly incomplete.

The only other characters in the play are Carol (also played by Janet Zarish), Colleen’s supervisor and mentor who appreciates and respects Colleen’s somewhat unorthodox therapeutic methods but who, at the same time, is trying to protect Colleen from herself; and Madge (Alison Fraser), a simple Irish waitress who exhibits more common sense in dealing with psychologically damaged individuals than do most trained professionals.  And, ironically, while Ms. White, Mr. Bishins and Mr. Burns perform admirably in their respective roles, I was especially impressed by Ms. Zarish and Ms. Fraser in the roles of Carol/Mary and Madge, respectively.  Ms. Zarish was particularly outstanding in her portrayal of the two diametrically different roles of Mary, a deranged depressive, at one moment, and as Carol, a self-assured therapist, the next.     

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