Psycho Therapy @ Cherry Lane Theatre
In its world premiere, Frank Strausser’s new comedy, Psycho Therapy, at Cherry Lane Theatre, receives a few laughs but falls flat in providing substance. Too much effort was being put in the humor that the characters came off as being one dimensional and not believable. The play centers on Lily (Angelica Page) who has come to see therapist, Nancy Winston (Jan Leslie Harding) in hopes to embark on couples therapy with her boyfriend Philip (Laurence Lau), who is not present. Instead, Lily’s ex-boyfriend Dorian (Jeffrey Carlson) shows up and poses as Philip. When the real Philip shows up for their second session and all three are sitting on the uncomfortable couch, that’s when hilarity supposedly ensues.
Strausser draws the situation out too long and doesn’t give the characters the necessary complexity within themselves and within their relationships. The lack of substance made me not care about the implausible scenario due to the contrived gimmicks. The script tries to emulate the light comedy of a Hollywood sitcom but never arises to that. Instead, it goes over a quartet of shallow stereotypes and delivers dialogue that is trying to be something it isn’t. The uneven pacing, direction, and shrill acting was due to the loss of an objective eye. This is due to the departure of the show’s original director Alex Lippard which left the play with an uncredited creative consultant.
The cast features worthy talent such as Angelica Page, Drama Desk nominee Jeffrey Carlson, Obie winner Jan Leslie Harding, and Laurence Lau. Angelica Page is physically expressive, but the combination of petulance and flirtatiousness felt forced and grating. She does not provide the personality that’s needed to an already empty character. Her character’s peevish behavior towards Philip didn’t make me sympathize with her. Laurence Lau plays the confused and frustrated Philip with charm. Jeffrey Carlson is delightfully charismatic as he gives his thinly written character a personality. Both Lau and Carlson make the show somewhat bearable to watch. Jan Leslie Harding modulates her voice during the scenes where her unhealthy relationships with her patients are revealed. She does this to gain a comic effect but pushes it too hard.
At moments one hopes the play would acknowledge the themes that were present, but decides to tackle other subjects that were unimportant and superficial. We spend time depicting the situations and challenges of the after effects of the wrong person showing up, and the lies concocted to cover it. I could’ve benefited from watching an hour and a half of television than watching a ninety minute excuse for a play that featured dated humor, one dimensional characters, and erratic staging. None of the characters evolve and you start to wonder what the point is.