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The Preacher And The Shrink
Connie, I've tried to help you, but I'm not going to give up my life for you. It's not fair. — Reverend Wheeler
I thought that's what "Christ-like" meant! Aren't you willing to give your life for me? — Constance

Dee Hoty (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Pretty, twenty-something Constance Hunter (Adria Vitlar) is evidently also smart and talented, but that is about all she has going for her. Despite being hired to teach poetry at a university in the Pennsylvania and bitterness. That's not to mention the regrets, that she has harbored for the past eight years estranged from her father Dr. Michael Hamilton (Tom Galantich), the pastor in a local church. It is no wonder that she has made an appointment to speak with Dr. Alexandra Bloomfield (Dee Hoty), the town's "shrink" of the title in Merle Good's play, his first to be produced in New York.

It's good to see Broadway veteran Hoty back on the boards, even in a role that doesn't offer her much of an opportunity to support her being a three time Tony nominee. It's also good to report that the play isn't quite as awful as the title.

Despite the author's last name, there isn't much that is especially good or credible in evidence. Good's potentially interesting theme (as it appears on the program cover): "How far will a father go to save his daughter?" is muddied by plot coincidences and implausible characters. What is evident is the determination and modestly successful efforts of director Steven Yuhasz to keep this turgid and talky little play moving steadfastly to its conclusion, one for which we are grateful.

One might assume from the first few moments in the opening scene in Dr. Bloomfield's office that Constance's decision to consult with a medical professional before confronting her father about what ails her is an indication of her maturity. Wrong.

As it happens Constance's meeting with Dr. Bloomfield is the first of a string of testy consultations and torturous meetings that will also and inevitably involve her stolid widower father and his married church associate Rev. David Wheeler (Mat Hostetler). It seems that Constance is determined to not only expose her father as a religious hypocrite but also destroy Rev. Wheeler's reputation with a trumped-up charge of sexual misconduct.

Brian Prather's functional set accommodates Dr. Bloomfield's office and also Dr. Hamilton's church office. Whatever tension or surprise comes as we observe how irrationally committed Constance to an insidious game plan. . . to lash out at her father whom she believes abandoned her physically and emotionally following the death of her mother from cancer. Notwithstanding her unstable, increasingly neurotic behavior, it becomes easy enough to envision her goal as a revenge-fueled pay-back.

The playwright is evidently eager to share some rather strong sentiments regarding the way people, specifically Constance, may misguidedly feel the need to empower and deploy their inner demons. Having felt deserted in her time of inconsolable grief, she now feels committed to challenging her father's integrity and his faith and belief in God.

While Constance reveals little about the failure of her marriage to a musician whom she has left in southern Florida, she is adamant about her need for personal closure. But closure for her becomes complicated as she resorts to black mail, and as the relationship between the "preacher" and the "shrink" suddenly proves to be an unexpected catalyst.

While Hoty as the atheist "shrink" listens intently to those who feel the need to seek her out, there is also an indication that she would like to rekindle a brief romance she had long ago with Constance's father. Vitlar adds a distinct edge of paranoia to her performance as the dangerously conflicted Constance. Hostetler is convincing as the well-meaning Reverend and Nicholas Urda is fine as a grateful parishioner whose prayers are answered, which is exactly how I felt when the play ended.

The Preacher And The Shrink by Merle Good
Directed by Steven Yuhasz

Cast: Dee Hoty (Dr. Alexandra Bloomfield), Tom Galantich (Dr. Michael Hamilton), Adria Vitlar (Constance Hunter), and Nicholas Urda (Steve Richardson), Mat Hostetler (Rev. David Wheeler).
Set Design: Brian Prather
Lighting design: Kirk Bookman
Costume design: Carol Sherry
Sound design: Patrick Weaver
Running time: 1 hour & 45 minutes including 1 intermission.
Beckett Theatre 410 West 42nd Street 212-239-6200
Tuesdays at 7 PM, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 & 8 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM
Tickets are $73.75
From 11/02/13; Opened 11/18/13; Ends 1/04/14.
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/13/13 press preview .
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