Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
The playbill for Albert Tapper's Sessions, providing both a provocative and clinical intro to this musical (see above), sports the copy "you'd have to be crazy to miss it." This wordplay, a window into the world of the emotionally-challenged characters involved in group therapy that inhabit the play, is apt, even if superlative for the theatre audience. There are some noteworthy elements to this piece, but I wouldn't call it a must-see.
Tapper has the great fortune of having his play staged at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre in the heart of Times Square. This very chic space, complete with receding glass panels that form an arc, is the ideal home for this piece. Peter Barbieri, Jr. mines this goldmine well, creating a beautiful therapist's office with a skyscraper backdrop that lights in the evening. Ahh, it certainly is pretty. The only downside is the visibility of the musicians in the background performing the score. Although the use of live musicians is ingratiating, seeing the flautist and others draws attention away from the performers.
The performers, all competent but few distinguished, are at their best when they harmonize during the frequent musical numbers. In these, Steven Petrillo directs and choreographs marvelously. The group therapy sessions, led by Dr. Peterson (Matthew Shepard), are interspersed between side conversations with the individual patients. This format, although practical and expected in a show about a shrink and his experiences, gives the material a very segmented feel. Rather than be a streamlined narrative, Sessions is instead a series of vignettes with one-dimensional characters.
As Dylan, a character masquerading as Bob Dylan both in appearance and sound, David Patrick Ford is deliciously entertaining with his ditties. Of all the solos, his are the most enjoyable, even though his story is the most frivolous. Al Bundonis is Baxter, a rich Donald Trump/Will Farrell hybrid. His "I failed Daddy, but I'm not a failure" story is normal fare one would associate with a wealthy businessman, but he infuses it with verve. Among the other patients are a bickering senior couple Mr. and Mrs. Murphy (Jim Madden and Bertilla Baker, respectively), a mamma's boy preoccupied with never to be gotten love George (a touching Scott Richard Foster), a bubbly therapy veteran Sunshine (Kelli Maguire), and Mary, a battered wife (Trisha Rapier).
Between the conversations with his id (voiced by Ed Reynolds Young), the dance numbers that he strangely participates in, the various pop culture references and his preoccupation with the vampy Leila (Amy Bodnar, wearing a bad extension hair piece), handsome Dr. Peterson must wrestle with the daily grind of psychoses and neuroses without the satisfaction of being able to do his job "perfectly" like his father before him in a simpler profession. It is a nice dream, but an illusion to those with work that is open-ended. Or, at the very most, the payoffs are ephemeral. As the supposed anchor to his patients, Shepard delivers an adequate therapist in emotional turmoil. Dr. Peterson is the only multi-layered character, but he is multi-layered more so by Tapper's design than by Shepard's embodiment.
Sessions gives us a fragile view of a symbol that many perceive to be impervious to the pitfalls of the human condition. As "repairmen", therapists are not supposed to be racked with uncertainty, but they can be. With a thoughtful, introspective look, Tapper taps into an issue that can be both comforting and unsettling, depending on your view of the couch.
Opens June 10th, through August 18th. $50. http://www.ticketcentral.com/ or (212) 279-4200
2 Hours and 10 minutes with an intermission. Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 416 West 42nd Street New York, NY 10036.