A review of Bryan Willis and Dwayne Clark’s “Seven Ways to Get There,” directed by John Langs with a fine ensemble cast at ACT Theatre.
Seven men. Seven different neuroses. One female shrink.
A recipe for a rollicking TV comedy series about group therapy and male bonding?
“Seven Ways to Get There,” a new play debuting at ACT Theatre, does exploit the ha-ha potential of a circle of strangers caring, sharing, baring their hang-ups — as have TV sitcoms from the droll “Bob Newhart Show” in the 1970s to the recent Matthew Perry vehicle, “Move On.”
‘Seven Ways to Get There’
by Bryan Willis and Dwayne J. Clark. Through March 15, ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle; $20-$65 (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org).
But poking fun at dysfunction and caricaturing the therapeutic experience is not all co-authors Dwayne J. Clark (whose experiences inspired the play) and Bryan Willis have set out to do. They also want you to really feel for these guys, and cheer them on toward mental health.
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It is no easy task, balancing the punchlines with the platitudes — and giving seven tormented psyches equal attention. Though the writers really, really try. And so does the first-rate cast, directed with verve and nuance by John Langs, sometimes overcoming uneven material and a fairly dated target.
In the superior first act, “Seven Ways to Get There” gets off to a running start. The whirlwind first scene introduces us to each client as they cycle through the office of Michelle (Kirsten Potter), their pretty, compassionate, tough-minded psychologist.
There’s Vince (Ty Boice), the seductive sex addict; and Nick (James DeVita), the arrogant and domineering lawyer; and Anthony (Darragh Kennan), the court-mandated client with fire-breathing anger issues.
Rounding out the circle are the insecure artist Mark (Bradford Farwell); shy Mel, the only African American member (Bob Williams); quiet, religious Peter (Charles Leggett); and Richard (Jim Lapan), the crude, loud weirdo and psycho-buffoon.
These strange couch-fellows are designed for diversity and friction, and in no time they’re trading insults and butting heads, while Michelle referees and urges them to confront their individual demons. Meanwhile, she’s comically trying to suppress her crush on the magnetic, leather-clad Vince (played with the perfect pantherine grace and come-hither stare by Boice).
Humor abounds early on — some of it sly and perceptive, some of it stereotypically crass and loutish (are adult men always this oafish in groups?), much of it laugh-inducing.
However it’s the vibrant acting, and Langs’ fleet and nimble direction, that mostly keep these neurotics (and a couple semi-psychotics) interesting.
Then in, Act 2, “Seven Ways to Get There” tries to burrow further into their problems (mostly sexual and marital, some blamed squarely on their unseen wives). When theatrical resolutions to long-standing issues are required, that’s when a forced march to a group-wide resolution kicks in. You can sense the authors stretching to wrap up matters in a tidy manner without taking too many short cuts.
However, the extraordinary DeVita’s overbearing kingpin Nick has taken up so much of the play’s oxygen, there finally isn’t much left to breathe into Williams’ shadowy good-guy Mel, Farwell’s anxious Mark or Kennan’s toughie Anthony. And the abrupt dramatic denouement for Mark, the big, sensational revelation of Leggett’s touching but sketchy Peter and the cringeworthy departing shot of Lapan’s Richard come out of nowhere.
There are a few other things that are hard to buy. (Does Michelle really charge a staggering $175 an hour for group sessions, which is at least twice the going rate? Would she really treat a violent self-abuser in a group with garden-variety neurotics?)
But there is nothing false in the acting of “Seven Ways to Get There,” which may be a reason to see the play — and revise it.