Arts, On Campus

Contemporary Theatre’s ‘Beyond Therapy’ Has Audience in Stitches

Contemporary Theatre has successfully crafted a performance that is likely the funniest event that has even taken place in the small auditorium of the Theology and Ministry Library on Boston College’s Brighton campus. While some may argue that the bar was not set especially high, as the side auditorium is usually reserved for musical performances or lectures, Contemporary Theatre’s Beyond Therapy show has exceeded expectations by huge margins. Succinctly, Beyond Therapy is fantastically hilarious, perhaps made even more so by the dull off-white color of the concrete bricks that comprise the space in which it takes place.

Beyond Therapy is a play written by Christopher Durang that first premiered in 1981. Remarkably similar to the style of comedy for the time, with dialogue and jokes reminiscent of films like Manhattan and Annie Hall—if such a comparison can be made without including the negative connotations of the films’ writer and director—and Contemporary Theatre plays the show masterfully in 2018, all with a straight face.

The show focuses on the romantic trials and tribulations of Prudence (Lindsay Hyman, Lynch ’20) and Bruce (Brett Murphy, MCAS ’18), two adults living in Manhattan trying to find love. They are assisted in their quest by their respective therapists, Dr. Stuart Framingham (Alex O’Connor, MCAS ’20) and Dr. Charlotte Wallace (Natalie Maine, visiting BC research assistant). A small cast of additional characters also appear, but they will be discussed later.

Beyond Therapy begins in a restaurant. Prudence and Bruce are meeting for the first time on a blind date. Prudence is answering a personal ad that Bruce had placed in the newspaper. Both are clearly nervous and awkward as they settle in at the high-top table. The two converse, covering a number of topics. Bruce reveals that he has a male lover that he lives with at home, but that he is a bisexual man looking for a relationship with a woman. Prudence acts, for the most part, as the “straight face” of the scene—and of the play. She is taken aback by Bruce’s exorbitant personality, and finds his romantic life disconcerting. Bruce cries often and openly, as Prudence reacts negatively to his many comments. As the conversation progresses, it becomes apparent that both parties are enjoying themselves—and the other—less and less until Prudence finally throws her glass of water in Bruce’s face. Bruce responds accordingly and the scene ends.

At this point in the play, the audience was already very warm, having laughed throughout the first scene. The next two scenes present a duality in the lives of Prudence and Bruce. Prudence first meets with her therapist, Dr. Framingham. After this, Bruce is shown meeting with his therapist, Dr. Wallace. The styles of the two could not be more different—and funny. Dr. Framingham minces no words as he expresses his desire to sleep with Prudence, while also tossing out a few clearly horrible bits of professional advice. Dr. Wallace attempts to counsel Bruce, but she is constantly halted by her inability to remember the correct words—or anything else for that matter.

As Beyond Therapy progresses, Prudence and Bruce somehow form a relationship, in spite of their initially acerbic encounters, and begin to see each other with regularity. Prudence, and the audience, is introduced to Bob (Dustin Uher, MCAS ’19), the male lover who Bruce has been alluding to. Bob, as would be expected, does not take kindly to Prudence’s intrusion on his relationship with Bruce. In between calls to his mother and swigs of any available alcohol, Bob hurls passive aggression at Prudence and the situation. Rounding out this cast of characters are the waiters and waitresses at the restaurant (who double as the secretaries for Dr. Framingham and Dr. Wallace, as well as the set changers between scenes). Andrew the waiter, along with Bette and Marcia (played by Peter Dunn, MCAS ’19; Anna Livaccari, MCAS ’20; and Isabelle Walkey, MCAS ’21, respectively), all introduce even more humor into the show.

If it can be possible, every single actor in Beyond Therapy steals the show. Each person brings a unique and welcome brand of humor to the production and each person had the audience in stitches multiples times throughout the night. Hyman and Murphy played off each other wonderfully, bringing laughs through their facial expressions alone. O’Connor’s silent gestures to his assistant as the scene was changed got laughs at times when there was no dialogue at all. To her credit, Livacarri held her own comedically with O’Connor, shooting meaningful looks his way as she moved the furniture around on stage. Maine exclaimed and declared her lines boisterously, but her character’s brand of humor never seemed tiring over the two hours. Walkey’s small gestures and on-stage presence as one of Bruce’s maids provided bright spots of laughter in the gloom of the scene changes. Dunn’s ever-absent waiter provided a wonderful foil for the characters in the restaurant, an aspect of the show that was bolstered once he solidified his presence on stage. Uher’s biting aggression and incredulity at his romantic situation, along with the way he interacted with his “mother” on the phone, highlighted the hysterical absurdities of the play and of his own character.

Beyond Therapy is a tour de force in comedy, as well as one in direction and staging, for the theatrical arts at BC. There was no part of the show that even approached causing boredom. It speaks to remarkable ability when the actors and the show can keep an audience highly entertained across a runtime of two hours. Contemporary Theatre has made an incredible addition to their catalogue, and any member of the audience is sure to be waiting in anticipation for their next performance.

Featured Image by Kristin Saleski / Heights Staff

February 4, 2018