Personal ads are a slippery slope. Writers can exaggerate and underplay their physical features and psychological nuances as much as they want, throwing the respondents for a loop when they meet. Prudence and Bruce are in this situation. As Beyond Therapy opens, they are on their first date.
Prudence (Anne Vandercook) is responding to Bruce’s(Greg Mangiapane) personal ad. We quickly learn that Bruce took more than a couple liberties, in regards to his physical description, when writing his ad. The two get off to a rocky start datewise and as they take the event straight to their therapists. We see Prudence with her therapist Stuart (Kim Curtis), who perceives himself as a ladies’ man, the epitome of 1970’s macho masculinity, calling Prudence “Babe” every couple of minutes. Bruce doesn’t do much better with his therapist, Charlotte Wallace (Maria Raquel Ott). Charlotte Wallace is a character, to say the least. Hilarity ensues as this play unfolds. The characters’ worlds begin colliding in ways the audience doesn’t see coming.
The pair of Vandercook and Mangiapane makes for fantastic theatre, in a rather unpredictable play. Their grasp of comedy is invigorating. Vandercook’s Prudence is equal parts sincere and hilarious. Even her nonverbal communication throughout the play is immaculate, drawing the audience in as much during moments of silence as during moments of dialogue. By the end of the play, you want nothing but the best for Prudence. Mangiapane brings a unique combination of uncertainty and woe to his portrayal of Bruce. Bruce could easily be played as practically inert. On the contrary, Mangiapane allows you to see inside Bruce’s head, and watch the wheels turn as he trepidaciously tackles the obstacles in the play.
Each supporting cast member embraces his/her role as a pawn in this game. Kim Curtis, as Stuart, walks the line between macho and erratic, keeping the audience in stitches every minute of his stage time. His characterization of the male therapist is the perfect foil for Maria Raquel Ott’s portrayal of Charlotte Wallace. Ott’s flawless comedic timing and airheaded characterization of Charlotte Wallace is unpredictable and fun to watch. Her character choices are unique, and fun to experience. They have a number of scene-stealing moments that are memorable.
Paul Spencer Tamney’s portrayal of Bob is amazing. His performance is spot on. His melancholia is constantly shifting, making his uproarious and unpredictable outbursts a pleasure to behold. He has a sense of calm in this crazy production that is easy for the audience to hold onto. Last, but certainly not least, is Richard Bernstein’s performance as Andrew, the ever-illusive waiter. He is mentioned throughout the play but only seen in the last two scenes. When he finally arrives, he fits perfectly.
The performances, as a whole, maintain a certain degree of grounded stability, with each exaggerated character finding moments of realism. Without these moments, the production would have been far too outlandish for its own good. It is a credit to the director (Robert Epstein), for aiding this capable cast in finding both moments of eccentric madness as well as moments of believable reality.
If you are in the mood for an unconventional comedy, then Beyond Therapy is the show for you. You will instantly get caught up in the outlandish directional shifts in the plot, the hilarious references in the text, and the phenomenal performances by this gifted cast.
by Christopher Duran
directed by Robert Epstein
reviewed by Rick Westerkamp
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?