ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
When we first meet Sunny she is dressed in black leather and mesh stockings. The setting is an S&M parlor called Pandora's Box where she works as a dominatrix to earn the money to pay for her doctorall program in clinical psychology. Goldenhersh's metaphorically named Sunny is adorable and pert but a most unlikely mental health care professional, and an even more unlikely modern day Billy Budd. Yet, she proves an inspired choice to satirize the psychological establishment. For sure, her treatment of the customers who pay to be tied up and spanked proves to be far more compassionate and rational than the duplicitous behavior of her grad school advisers and a fellow student. As a matter of fact, Sunny's friendliness and openness have boomeranged before, with acts of kindness that yielded no quid pro quo.
Graduate school turns out to be the latest and most horrific case of misplaced trust, driving Sunny into despair bordering on paranoia. When Molly, who has come to New York to take her NYState bar exams, becomes Sunny's apartment mate, she also serves as a sympathetic sounding board for her problems.
Psych is not only a send-up of a particular segment of the professional world but a more general exploration of a society in which "coldness and bitchiness" win out over kindness. As tautly directed and stylishly staged by Jim Simpson of the downtown Flea Theater, the combination of comedy and psychological thriller works even though the presentation-style opening is weak and the details of plot and character have almost as many credibility gaps as those dominatrix mesh stockings have holes — notably the weak foundation for the hostilities Sunny encounters.
Graham as the calm and reasonable Molly whose still waters run somewhat unconvincingly deep) and Goldenhersh as the more emotionally volatile Sunny play off each other most effectively. The four other actors are smartly cast in multiple role that slyly emphasize the links between who is and who is not in control.
Marissa Copeland's roles vary from a voluptuously sullen dominatrix in a nurse's outfit to the guarded head of the psychology department. Katie Kreisler also has three parts, including that of yet another but much more fragile dominatrix as well as a troubled and troublesome fellow student of Sunny's. Danny Burstein takes on four characters, the most amusing as a client of the S&M parlor. Damian Young stands out as the smarmy psychologist whom Sunny must please, first to get accepted into the graduate program and then to stay in. His small second role is Smith's way of meting out poetic justice.
Claudia Brown's costumes are full of clever psychological touches. Kyle Chepulis keeps the stage sparsely furnished, the main set piece being a curved opaque panel of doors which open and close as the ringing of a gong signals the end of each scene — and yet another betrayal.
Scott Myers' music and sound heighten the tension that mounts as Sunny, tries to hang on to her tenuous standing in the doctoral program by apparently taking a page out of the writings of the British anti-psychological establishment guru R.D. Laing; for example: "They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game." (Joseph Heller's Catch 22 also comes to mind).
Despite the plot holes and a much needed blue pencil to cut the hour and forty minutes by at least ten minutes, Psych confirms Evan Smith as an interesting and always adventurous playwright who is not afraid to take risks. The three Smith plays I've now seen, are all different in period, genre and style. His first, Uneasy Chair (also produced by Playwrights Horizon), is my favorite, but each is a showcase for an original voice.
Playbill theater historian Louis Botto recently wrote a piece about famous last lines in plays. If he ever does a follow-up, he should include "Time's Up", the super apt last line of Psych. As for Mr. Smith's next play, I'm eager to see where his curiosity and wit will take him next.
Other plays by Evan Smith
The Uneasy Chair
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.