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Space Therapy

By Wenzel Jones
Backstage West
March 22, 2007

The seriocomic ending might feel a bit tacked-on, and the one-hour running time places this zany farce more in the realm of extended sketch than play, but audiences will be laughing too hard to care. Writer-director Justin Tanner's razor-sharp wit is in high-flying form in this sidesplitting space-age sex comedy. Picture Woody Allen's Sleeper combined with Tanner's Wife Swappers, and you'll have an idea of the divinely bawdy comic spirit driving this loony tale of marital warfare in outer space.

The setting is an intergalactic cruise ship that provides couples-counseling for estranged marital partners. Attended to by a hunky all-purpose robot (Guilford Adams), eager to reprogram himself to satisfy each guest's every need, three couples submit to the dubious therapeutic sessions run by self-centered and abusive psychologist Bryn Masters (Mary Scheer). An acid-tongued husband (Jonathan Palmer) constantly berates his plump, motor-mouth wife (Maile Flanagan), who depends on her menagerie of cats for affection. A sexually frustrated wife (Julie Brown) is desperate to lure her bisexual hubby (French Stewart) back into her boudoir. And longtime gay spouses (Ed Martin and Tom Fitzpatrick) are having yin-yang issues.

Tanner imbues these nutty neurotics with a cornucopia of humorous hang-ups, resulting in a relentless barrage of raucous recriminations. He has assembled a marvelous cast, mixing his veteran rep players with new faces, achieving a sublime comic chemistry. Scheer's demented doctor - the sort badly in need of healing herself - is an explosively funny creation. Stewart tosses off his bountiful bon mots with a deadpan drollery that hits the target every time, playing beautifully off Brown's libidinous lady-in-distress. Flanagan plays put-upon sad sack to the hilt; she's the queen of woe-is-me histrionics, egged on to uproarious effect by Palmer's wry delivery of cynical barbs. Adams' hilarious automaton suggests a Stepford clone whose testosterone wiring has short-circuited. As the alternative-lifestyle couple, Martin and Fitzpatrick carry off some of Tanner's choicest naughty gags with aplomb.

Gary Guidinger's goofy futuristic set is a scream, and Tanner's lust-in-space epic a nonstop howler.

Presented by Linda Toliver and Gary Guidinger at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Mar. 9-Apr. 15. (323) 852-9111.

©2007 Guilford Adams. All rights reserved.