Monday, June 18, 2007

Sessions - June 17, 2007

Anyone who has ever been in therapy, group or otherwise, will recognize the characters of Sessions. While the characters' issues are standard dramatic fare - nothing new here - the actors provide enough depth to make stereotypical neurosis truthful. Even their therapist, Dr. Peterson (Matthew Shepard) is written as something of a cliché, but Shepard's warmth, charm and humanity make him anyone's dream shrink. Picture a modern-day Paul Henreid from Now Voyager. Of course he is a married man fighting the temptation to cross the line with one of his patients.

Book, Lyrics and Music are by Albert Tapper, and this is problematic. The book is fairly strong, the tunes, while not entirely memorable, are certainly pretty enough, but the lyrics are mediocre at best. Some collaboration might have pushed this piece from being simply "enjoyable enough" to something special.

The set design (Peter Barbieri, Jr. who also did the costumes) is exquisite and is the perfect New York City psychologist's office. Naturally the show is set in New York, where else would one find so many neurotic characters? This too is a bit of cliché, at least, and to Barbieri's credit, they do not all wear black. The show is very New York specific, right down to New Jersey and Staten Island jokes and street addresses of Starbucks and the Strand book stands. To a point that is fine for a New York audience, but seems too insular. When George (the delightful Scott Richard Foster) mentions he has moved to Washington Heights to get as far from Bleecker Street as he can, one wonders if anyone outside of New York City will have a clue as to what he's talking about.

The characters include Mr. & Mrs. Murphy (Jim Madden and Bertilla Baker), the squabbling retirees. Leila (Amy Bodnar), the sex-kitten with a broken heart and some serious hair extension issues at this performance. Dylan (David Patrick Ford), who can't accept his life of privilege and so takes on the personality of Bob Dylan - and does a very amusing and understated imitation. George Preston (Scott Richard Foster), as the indecisive introvert who cannot get over a girlfriend who broke up with him more than a decade earlier. Sunshine (Natalie Buster, who understudies all the female roles), the well-off child of an alcoholic suburban home who is finally ready to quit therapy after ten years. Mary (Trisha Rapier), the breast cancer survivor who refuses to leave her physically abusive husband. Baxter (Al Bundonis, whose time onstage is thoroughly captivating and far too brief), the Donald Trump-inspired real estate mogul who wants his father's approval. And The Voice (Ed Reynolds Young), who is the therapist Dr. Peterson visits with his own issues.

Abused wife Mary is possibly the most tragic, as well as the most clichéd character (no fault of Trishia Rapier's - it's just how she's written). She has two songs, one for each act that both say essentially the same thing: I'm not leaving my husband because when he beats me I feel loved. The fact that Dr. Peterson does not report this long-term abuse to the police is a plot problem. This is something that is required by law, yet he does not report the abuse even though it has gone on the entire time Mary has been in therapy - years! At one point Mary states emphatically that "THIS is my support group", one wonders how supportive they really are when not one of them has reported the situation either. When Dr. Peterson receives a phone call telling him that Mary has been killed by her husband towards the end of Act Two, it is no surprise. Mary's death is 'required' to propel Dr. Peterson into a full-out crises of confidence, but honestly, we all saw it coming: why didn't he?

While it is not particularly moving, Sessions is an enjoyable couple of hours at the theater. It's just unfortunate that it is more pop-psychology than the real thing.


Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Thru August 1

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