In an age where every reality TV star thinks he or she is qualified to throw around Freudian terms, psychology and therapy hold a very mainstream place in our culture. Yet what has this inundation of pseudo-psychological information in our lives done to us? Have we lost track of what therapy is really meant to do? This is the central question in Wendy Beckett’s new play Love Therapy, currently playing at the DR2 Theatre near Union Square.
I was first introduced to Australian playwright Wendy Beckett through her play A Charity Case, and quickly realized that she has a lot of fresh ideas. Love Therapy displays a great deal of interesting characters and some nice scenes, though unfortunately the overall arc of the play is not fully satisfying.
Part of this has to do with problems that actually stem from Jo Winiarski’s set design. The stage is a substantial size, but the actors do not have dynamic spaces in which to work, and therefore their blocking often seems un-moored and distracting. This is coupled with the fact that because Jill Nagle’s lighting has taken on some of the work of creating discrete spaces, the actors often necessarily move into darkened spots because of the limited scope of the lights.
When they are lit, Patricia E. Doherty’s costume design has us wondering why a therapist would be wearing an outfit that looks a bit more risqué than one would expect. The shining example on the technical side of the show is Fight Director Brad Lemons, who does an excellent job with some very fantastic fight choreography.
Despite these design problems, the actors do a good job of holding our interest. The supporting actors give solid performances, especially David Bishins’s portrayal of Steven and Janet Zarish’s of Carol and Mary. Margot White plays marriage counselor Colleen Fitzgerald, who believes in a kind of radical love therapy in which genuine emotion takes the place of distant formality.
Unfortunately, though she exhibits the idealism of the character, White does not seem warm and genuine. She is engaging, but director Evan Bergman has not pushed her to exhibit the kind of strength this character needs to portray throughout her sessions. There are, however, a few shining moments for White where I did get a glimpse of how her character could have been with stronger direction.
Of course, the other stumbling block here is the uneven trajectory of the play itself. Beckett writes excellent and interesting individual scenes, but the overall effect is a bit too choppy. The ending was so abrupt that I did not actually believe the play had ended. Yet something about Beckett’s quirkiness kept me engaged and interested in these characters even when I was unsure where the story was going.
The play's questions are pertinent and complex: how can a therapist help if they are detached? Where is the line between emotional and physical intimacy? Has contemporary life inhibited our ability to connect with each other? The answers seem to hinge on Colleen Fitzgerald’s struggle between her powerful position and her weakened emotional state, yet Bergman has not created enough of a contrast between these two parts of the protagonist for this to be fully effective.
Love Therapy is an interesting but ultimately flawed attempt to look at the power dynamics that result in trying to work on romantic relationships like we would any other business transaction. With the help of a good dramaturg and a different design team, this piece could find some strong footing and be a solid piece of theatre. My hope is that it will do just that.