NEW YORK—“Love Therapy,” a quirky play about psychotherapy, is written with inside knowledge by playwright Wendy Beckett, who happens to be a trained psychologist herself.
At opening, psychologist Colleen (Margot White) is being interviewed by her supervisor, Carol (Janet Zarish). Carol is displeased with Colleen’s handling of certain cases.
In one case in particular Colleen has stepped out-of-bounds, according to professional principles. She has actually hugged a client, and the client‘s wife has complained.
But Colleen has hugged the wife too, she protests. Carol insists that Colleen’s tactics are too progressive, and that the evaluating committee may take action against her if she persists in her unorthodox behavior.
Colleen is flabbergasted. She feels that her way truly helps people. She believes in going beyond the usual cool approach; she gives love to her clients.
An assortment of peculiar people comprises her clientele. Steven (David Bishins) oozes masculine power and aggressiveness, fused with hostility. In the beginning, Colleen behaves professionally, keeping her distance.
Client Brian (Christopher Burns) is seemingly very introverted until an incident sets him off and exposes a violent streak.
Mary (Janet Zarish) is so passive and withdrawn that she can barely speak. But when she finally opens up, she complains bitterly about the death of her daughter in an accident. Her husband should have been killed instead, she cries. Oddly, she mentions that her husband is dead, but not through the accident. His mysterious cause of death, when revealed later, is a shocker.
Madge (Alison Fraser), an Irish waitress in the nearby coffee shop where Colleen often passes the time, is a leavening factor, a support and comfort to Colleen, and the kind of friend Colleen needs.
Unfortunately, things don’t remain the same; they always change, it seems. Ultimately, Colleen’s clients prove unable to contain their subterranean, broiling emotions. In an unexpectedly violent scene, Brian and Mary confront each other, with harsh results, and we learn the truth about the death of Mary’s husband.
As for the dangerous combination of Steven and Colleen, his amorous pursuit coupled with Colleen’s loneliness pushes her over the edge of propriety. Later realizing her error, she backs off from the relationship, but Steven, deeply offended by her rejection, has already taken serious steps against her.
Had Colleen been unwise to break the professional rules of conduct?
The appealing Margot White‘s compassionate therapist Colleen supplies the glue that holds the play together. She maintains her centered position until thrown off balance by the extreme emotional eruptions of her unstable and ungrateful clients.
Janet Zarish’s doubling is seamless: Her supervisor Carol is strict and disciplined, while her neurotic Mary appears about to fall apart at any moment.
Alison Fraser’s Madge inserts a bright spot of vivacity into the sometimes-painful proceedings.
David Bishins’s Steven offers an intriguing mix of menace and sexuality, and Christopher Burns’s Brian skillfully conveys what seems like an innocuous person until the situation causes him to break.
The unobtrusive set by Jo Winiarski, consisting of muted blue walls and three unmatched chairs and a table, produces the spare, minimalist ambience that’s just right for this play.
Sound designer John Emmett O’Brien deserves mention for the mysterious, new world-type musical sounds that accompany scene changes. They add to the overall effectiveness of the production as does Jill Nagle’s lighting.
Costumes by Patricia E. Doherty are simple but appropriate.
Under the direction of Evan Bergman, “Love Therapy” compels as well as instructs. Giving a rare insight into the therapeutic process from the therapist’s point of view, it has the ring of truth.
101 East 15th Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Closes: May 25
Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts publication. For information: [email protected]