FORT WORTH The title of the play is Beyond Therapy but, truth be told, its characters are more like “beyond hope.”
The socially inept, emotional train wrecks who populate this goofy 1981 farce by famed playwright Christopher Durang are probably in need of a great deal more than therapy. And they are certainly in need of far better professional (and we are using the term loosely here) help than the lead couple, Prudence (Dana Schultes) and Bruce (Mark Shum), receive from Dr. Framingham (Jakie Cabe) and Mrs. Wallace (Amber Devlin), two of the worst shrinks who ever took up the trade.
No, make that the worst who ever took up the trade.
But, fortunately for us, any healing for Bruce, Prudence and their fellow travelers will have to wait for another script. In the meantime, we get to enjoy laughing at (not with) all these loveable losers in this period piece.
The show opens with Bruce and Prudence having an awkward first meeting at a restaurant after responding to one another’s personal ads. Their mutual desperation is as pathetic as the service in the restaurant, which seems to have never had a waiter on staff. But it is also quite funny.
It looks like this is going to be Bruce and Prudence’s show, but then we meet the therapists. Prudence’s Dr. Framingham, who is made more comic by his urban cowboy outfits and his Elvis-goes-to-Texas accent, has already slept with his patient when we meet him — and would like to do so again.
Mrs. Wallace is supported in her therapy sessions with Bruce by a Snoopy plush toy. When progress is thought to be made (because no progress is ever really made in her office), Mrs. Wallace and her stuffed assistant bark happily.
And then there is Bruce’s lover, Bob (Tyler Martin). Yes, Bruce is trying to make up his mind about a lot of things.
Schultes, who is co-producing director and director of development at Stage West, and Schum, who is the theater’s business manager, play their parts well. But the show is stolen by the supporting players because of the way their parts are written and played.
Cabe is appropriately oily and ridiculous. Devlin is totally ditzy and absolutely delightful. Martin plays Bob as an extremely swishy Jim Carrey. His approach is more mimicry than true characterization, but he is often hysterical.
The period of the piece is also carried nicely by Michael Robinson’s costume designs and whoever does Schultes’ hair. And the production even helps out younger patrons by posting placards explaining various pop culture and newsmaker references from the show in the hallway leading to the theater’s performance area.
The only flaw in this generally pleasing production is the deadly slow pace and stagnant blocking employed by director Jim Covault, the other producing director at Stage West. Things usually move along at a clip more appropriate for a drama than a comedy. Only Cabe’s delivery has the snap and pop it needs for the material. Everybody else needs to get the lead out and get out of those chairs to which they all seemed to be nailed.
But, while you will gain no real insights into the human condition by seeing this slight comedy, you are apt to be well entertained despite the show’s sluggishness and unnecessary length. There are a lot of laughs to be found in the abundant failings of these absurd characters.
Finally, it should be noted that this show, which closes Stage West’s 2013-14 season, makes an excellent appetizer for a much more recent Durang work: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spice, winner of the Tony Award for the best play of 2013, which Stage West will present next summer.