How it’s New York: Are you serious? It’s about therapy! Also, the production is currently showing at the DR2 Theatre in NYC.
How it’s Irish: Three of the characters have Irish names, and one, Madge, is an Irish immigrant.
I received, as part of my review packet, a script that was labeled “draft”. I thought, “Well, someone forgot to revise the title page of the script.” But now that I’ve seen the show, an exploration of a therapist’s psychological and emotional journey intertwined with her couple’s therapy practice, “draft” is an accurate description.
“[We] need you to be real with [us] or it doesn’t work”
The problem is, accuracy is the absolute word here. Written by Wendy Beckett, an actual therapist as well as playwright, this is a brief, occasionally explosive piece. Her book is always interesting, but theater is not a venue for case studies: we need to connect sympathetically with the characters. Unfortunately, three of the characters – Brian Beatie (Christopher Burns) and Mary (Janet Zarish), two “clients”, and Carol (again, surprisingly, Janet Zarish!), a Case Supervisor – seemed like textbook studies: interesting and even surprising, but not fleshed out.
I DID like the show, and there was a lot to like about it: a promising premise, an ambitious book, wonderful actors operating at the top of their craft, and a great stage in an appropriately intimate theater. There was also a very cool stage convention: a revolving, framed panel of opaque glass called a Perspex door, used to reveal the twisting and turning of the therapist’s and clients’ inner thoughts.
But while there was plenty of dialogue – as one would expect with staged simulations of therapy sessions – Beckett doesn’t seem to take any real chances with her characters. Sometimes she uses their words to tease us, like Brian saying that his anger was like a burning house and Colleen Fitzgerald/the “therapist” (Margot White) later saying that she and Brian are “getting along like a house on fire”. Or to even lead us on, as when Steven Jones, a “client” (David Bishins) flirts or uses innuendo at Colleen. But mostly the characters just “are”: their stories aren’t acted out, just discovered suddenly through someone’s outburst.
Even Colleen, the lynchpin of the play, doesn’t get much to do beyond exploring one of her less philanthropic “wants” – albeit, a big one. She isn’t the first therapist I’ve heard of who’s true motivation is to explore her own life through a desire to help others, and it’s a juicy storyline. But she is too touchy-feely for a therapist – even a young one – and too tightly wound in the end as a character to ever really reveal her true identity. We are left wondering what is to become of her – which, in fact, is how we are ultimately left with most of the characters in this piece. This does leave us with the experience of what a therapist feels when a client up and quits before the great “aha” moment, but I have to wonder if that is one of Beckett’s intentions.
And early on, the blocking of two of Colleen’s three “big speeches” – she is downstage, extreme stage left, delivering them facing side-stage to Carol – doesn’t do much to establish her character’s intentions. Perhaps this slight trivialization of intention wasn’t caught because, subconsciously, either Colleen, or the playwright, knew those pronouncements masked a deeper motivation? But it is not my responsibility to “psychoanalyze” the play, only to review the performance.
There are two standout performances: Alison Fraser as Madge (See my interview of Alison Fraser), and David Bishins as Steven Jones.
Having interviewed Fraser and discovered that she’d been in A Charity Case, a previous play by Beckett, and helped Beckett develop Fraser’s character “Faith” in that show, I suspect that either Fraser also helped with Madge’s character development, or the part of Madge was written for her.
And with good reason: Fraser’s philosophically down-to-earth but passionate Madge grabs the reins in every scene she’s in while still maintaining the convention of dialogue with other characters.
And while the other characters’ costumes are appropriate, Madge’s stand out as much as her tough, opinionated, survivor-mentality Irish immigrant character – a snap-out-of-it message that cuts through all the faux nice-ness like a skein beag (Irish knife). And Bishins gives Steven some real character development, a credit Bishins richly deserves for his nuanced performance of a role that could easily be just another “type”.
“Intimacy: we’ve lost our gift for connection.”
Potentially a therapist’s case notes would be a wonderful springboard for exploring human nature through scripts. But one must depart from those “sketches” and flesh out the human beings behind these psychological “types”. Great start, Ms. Beckett, but we need more to connect to – before the time is up for this “session.”
Copyright 2013 New York Irish Arts