IT’S 1982 ALL OVER AGAIN!
In 1982, at the age of just 33, Christopher Durang already had the distinct reputation for a bitingly witty, somewhat dark, and thoroughly satiric world view. With critical successes as Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You, Das Lustiania Songspeil, and A History of the American Film under his belt, he was already one of playwriting’s ranking iconoclasts.
Yet with Beyond Therapy, Durang was entering new ground, not only in tone, but in subject. With the two lonely single Manhattanites who meet by placing personal advertisements in the paper, the ideas of love and the search for meaningful relationships, and, in fact, humanity itself, enters the Durangian orbit. And though there is still the ring of the sharply hurled retort and the zing of the carefully observed quip, there’s a definite feeling – for the first time – of love in the air.
This softer side began to materialize for him, he says, when he was recovering from the death of his mother in the spring of 1979 after her long struggle with cancer, and from his experiences in therapy himself.
“It was an odd period,” Mr. Durang said. “I was being very healthy, not eating sugar and running in Central Park. It was during this time that I started to get the idea for Beyond Therapy,” he said in an article about the play by Douglas McGill in the May 23, 1982 issue of The New York Times. With his friends – particularly his women friends – all starting to hit their 30s, he began picking up a pervasive sense of dread. “It was very traumatic for them. For some reason, our generation didn’t marry early. The ones who married early are now getting divorces, and the ones who didn’t get married are getting terribly worried about getting married very soon and getting children very soon. I sort of picked up by osmosis that kind of tension about trying to find a personal relationship. Trying to make it work and all that.”
And yet, instead of placing that tension under his usual dark lens, Durang takes a decidedly optimistic tack in Beyond Therapy. “[It] feels like me in a much friendlier mood. It seems to me very playful. It doesn’t feel like a venting of anger or anguish or whatever.” And, he adds, “I guess this is the only sweet ending I’ve ever written. The characters have one foot in reality perhaps more than in other plays of mine.” That negotiation of sweetness mixed with outrageous humor has been a life-long interest for Durang. “I’ve always been interested in trying to combine comedy with seriousness. There has been a tendency to either do my work as camp, or if not as camp, as very cartoony. I feel that gets exhausting. I’m very pleased when actors and directors bring a certain amount of genuine emotion and reality to the work.”
From the play’s depiction of therapy and, in particular, the outrageous characters of the two therapists themselves, one might find it surprising that Durang has such positive feelings towards the therapeutic process. Yet in Beyond Therapy, Durang is clearly casting a favorable vote. Even Mrs. Wallace, the well-meaning but addlepated therapist in the play, can give some very good advice. Enamored with the play Equus, Mrs. Wallace recommends her patients go out and live their lives full of passion rather than fear: “To Risk! To Risk!” she encourages everyone under her care. “I’ve been more capable of seeing the legitimacy of Mrs. Wallace’s advice,” Durang confesses. “Of course, it’s an impractical way to live. But maybe going out ‘to risk, to risk’ with some crackpot is better than staying at home with your cats.”
We certainly hope you’ll come out and join us for New York city’s first revival of Christopher Durang’s delightful and (almost) romantic comedy, Beyond Therapy– and leave your cats at home.