Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Everything about the 1980s was excessive: big hair, big shoulder pads and major navel-gazing. So self-absorbed were many of us that making an appointment with a therapist to work on our personal problems was as routine as getting a haircut or a manicure.

With rapier-sharp wit, Christopher Durang skewers that preoccupation in his hilarious absurdist comedy, Beyond Therapy¸ now onstage at the Chatham Community Theatre's playhouse as the final offering of the troupe's 89th year. And a fine way to end an exciting season it is!

Scott Tyler and Tara CiolettiOn the advice of her therapist to accept imperfection, unmarried Prudence, approaching thirty, searches for her perfect mate via personal ads placed in the newspaper (remember, it's the 80s—before online dating). Similarly, bisexual Bruce (he wants a family and a house in Connecticut), at the urging of his therapist to take more risks, has place such an ad. Their meeting in a restaurant, where there don't seem to be any waiters, is a hilarious mishmash of misinformation and misperception that will make your head spin. And meeting the two therapists will really have you in a tizzy: Stuart, Prudence's shrink, is a pompous lecher while Bruce's analyst Charlotte is a ditzy dame with a propensity for using incorrect and inappropriate words, forgetting what she was saying, and employing a stuffed Snoopy and barking as part of her treatment! Bruce and Prudence's budding relationship is upended by the appearance of Bruce's lover Bob, who doesn't take being brushed off lightly, causing havoc.

Durang's rapid-fire dialogue requires a strong directorial hand and actors with great comedic timing and delivery to make it work. The Chatham Community Players have both in spades for Beyond Therapy (it's clear just why they have been named Best Community Theater in New Jersey for 2 years in a row by the NJ Association of Community Theaters). In her début at CPP, Lauren Moran Mills continues her adept direction, so deft that the action moves so quickly and smoothly that you won't have time to breathe!

Tara and CastAnd she has assembled a terrific cast to make this ludicrousness work. As Prudence, Tara Cioletti (center) looks every bit the Gen-Xer on the rise: desperate about her un-marital state and annoyed by her shrink's sexual advances (but not enough to end their psychiatric relationship). Scott Tyler's Bruce (left) is a manic mess, talking incessantly, jiggling his leg, jumping on chairs. He's a "partial crackpot" who tells Prudence that he's her "last chance." Not very reassuring! Scott M. Jacoby (right rear) is a riot as Stuart Framingham, everything a therapist shouldn't be. He doesn't listen to Prudence, calls her "babe" and alludes to their sexual relationship as though it's ethical...and normal. Matching him in wackiness, Donne Petito's Charlotte (fright front) is totally off the wall. She can't recall one patient from another, utters malapropisms and inappropriate words (she says "dirigible" when she means "secretary," and references Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in an attempt to untangle the mess she's had a hand in creating! And finally, Michael Sundberg's Bob (right rear) is fine as a scorned lover who won't take no for an answer, that is until he spots David Jimenez, in a nice turn as the waiter Andrew (left rear).

Chris Furlong's spiffy black and white modular set—so perfect for the 80s—nicely complements the murky romantic waters; it's easily moved around to form several venues in a few seconds. Bev Wand's costumes really convey character: Charlotte's bohemian skirts and shawls are perfect for a fading flower child; Stuart's big silver belt buckle and bolo tie are just right for an over-the-hill dude; and Prudence's silk blouses and tailored skirts/trousers mark a young woman on the move. The only thing missing was big hair and big shoulder pads. Joe DeVico's sound and Todd Mills' lighting are atmospheric without being intrusive.

Absurdist comedy is not everyone's cup of tea. But if you are in the mood for sharp satire, crackling dialogue and off-the-wall comedy, Beyond Therapy will tickle your funny bone. Some of the references are a tad outdated, but so what? After all, some of us do recall the over-the-top eighties (even if we won't admit to it)!

Beyond Therapy will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through May 21. The Chatham Community Playhouse is located at 23 N. Passaic Avenue in Chatham. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.635.7363 or visit

Photos by Howard Fischer.