‘Beyond Therapy’ finds humor in the absurd

Mary Mattingly

If you take psychological suffering in the right frame of mind, you can find the humor in it.

While this concept may seem counter-intuitive, it is the central theme to Christopher Durang’s play, “Beyond Therapy.”

“I think that’s particularly meaningful for this play,” director Matthew Fowler said. “There’s a lot of psychological suffering that happens onstage and behind the scenes, but at the end of the day you can find the humor in it.”

“Beyond Therapy” runs Feb. 21 through Feb. 23 at Grand Valley State University as a part of the Performance Studio Series, which are fully staged, student directed and acted productions that take place in the Louis Armstrong Theatre. The comedy tells the story of Manhattenites Bruce and Prudence as they seek a stable relationship through personal advertisements at the prompting of their therapists. The show embraces questions concerning bisexuality, therapy and relationships.

Fowler, a senior and double major in theater and communications, was appointed director of the show based on an application process. Unlike most productions where the play is chosen first and then a director is hired, Fowler was able to designate that he wanted to direct “Beyond Therapy.” He has been a fan of the play the majority of his college career.

“It kept resurfacing for me. What better way to top off my time here at Grand Valley than to do this one play,” Fowler said. “The thing about Durang is he’s got a very unique sense of humor that I’m naturally attracted to, myself, and I hope other people are. He lives in this boundary of what is socially acceptable and what is not. Oftentimes his characters completely abandon social rules but live within the boundaries enough to be acceptable.”

The plot centers on the relationship between Prudence and Bruce. Bruce, who has a boyfriend named Bob, is advised by his therapist to explore his heterosexual side. The play also explores the relationships the two characters have with their therapists. Each character has a chance to finally express their views when they converge at a restaurant.

In order to develop their onstage relationship, both Cody Robison, who plays Bruce, and co-star Emilee Miller, who plays Prudence, have been using techniques developed by acting coach Sanford Meisner. The method helps actors live in the moment by listening to what the other has to say and then responding accordingly.

“It allows the relationship to be fluid. You’re not stuck on one particular method, and the specifics of the general conflict have a little leeway,” Robison said. “There are a lot of ways to say ‘I love you,’ and depending on the context of how it is said, however the character you are interprets it gives them a basis on how to respond.”

“Cody makes it really easy to work with him because he fully becomes his character in the moment. Both of us react in the moment; he makes it really easy to react to all his actions,” Miller added. “We continue to do it in different ways. Some are more dramatic than others. We work really well together; he makes it easy to become uncomfortable Prudence.”

While the show’s premise may seem absurd to audience members, the themes portrayed are relatable.

“What I admire about Durang is that he uses dark themes, but in a humorous way,” Fowler said. “One of the major themes is that you’re getting older each day and you (need to) find someone to hook up with now or die alone. You have to accept someone who’s not perfect and not what you’re looking for or you’ll run yourself mad looking for the right person or die alone with cats.”

While being director is hard work, the final product is worth it.

“You get really close with your actors, your crew, you’ve got people who will back you on things,” Fowler said. “There’s just that reward of leading people, and being passionate about something you love and other people who share that passion to create something beautiful. There’s nothing like it.”

Beyond Therapy runs Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6 in advance and $7 the day of the show.