• RATING: ***½
• WHERE: Prospect Theater Project, 520 Scenic Drive, Modesto
• WHEN: Through Feb. 28. 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Feb. 25; 2 p.m. Sundays
• RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, including an intermission
• TICKETS: $15
• INFORMATION: 549-9341 or www.prospecttheaterproject.org
Therapist Charlotte Wallace never has seen an emotion she didn't like. She encourages her patients to cry at any time, confide in Snoopy dolls and work out their anger with guns.
As portrayed by Kathleen Ennis, she is the funniest character in Christopher Durang's laugh-packed satire "Beyond Therapy" at the Prospect Theater Project in Modesto. Wearing long bohemian dresses, big glasses and intense expressions, Ennis had Friday's opening night audience in stitches with her manic counseling sessions.
The 1981 play brilliantly pokes fun at the excesses of therapists, showing how counselors can sometimes be nuttier than their patients.
The biggest challenge for today's audiences is that it's filled with the dated pop culture references of its time. On his Web site, Durang said he has tried to update the show but gave up because the new references weren't as funny as the original. Prospect helps with the problem by offering a glossary of "groovy lingo" in the program.
Directed by Ron Lane, the show starts a little slow but hits its stride in the second act.
Josh Bower is humorously earnest as Bruce, who takes out a personal ad to meet a wife even though he is living with his gay lover. He has been advised by Charlotte to take risks, act on instinct and "not be afraid of sounding pathological."
As Prudence, the woman who answers the ad, Laura Dickinson is neurotic, judgmental and more interested in her cats than people. She's advised by psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Framingham (Sean Trew), who slept with her in the past and still hits on her regularly.
After Ennis, the funniest actor in the show is Charles Mullins, who plays Bruce's frustrated lover, Bob. He throws temper tantrums, pouts and constantly calls his mother for advice.
The show is staged in the round with rooms set up on each of the four corners of the stage. It's a tight fit and the performers get within inches of the audience. Those who attend should be warned that if they sit in the first row they might get wet because the actors throw glasses of water at each other.
It's great to see Prospect continuing to present comedy after years of staging mostly heavy, intellectual fare. In these tough economic times, we need some laughs and "Beyond Therapy" provides plenty.