BWW Reviews: World Premiere Comedy CLASSIC COUPLES COUNSELING Examines Shakespeare's Famous Lovers

How often have you wished you could have stopped the tragedy that befalls lovers in Shakespeare's plays? Playwright and producer Lloyd J. Schwartz, along with director Ted Lange, lovingly give you a chance to get to know these magnificent characters in the world premiere comedy CLASSIC COUPLES COUNSELING now onstage at the Secret Rose Theatre in NoHo. Their vision juxtaposes modern counseling with the timeless issues facing Shakespeare's classic couples. While there is no iambic pentameter allowed in the doctor's office, they have tipped their hats to the rhythmic word form and decided to let the humor of the situations dictate the flow of the language and the characters interaction.

The cast includes Anthony Gruppuso (MacBeth), Paul Gunning (Hamlet, James), Thomas Anthony Jones (Othello), Heather Keller (Desdemona), Anne Leyden (Kate), Barbara Mallory (Lady MacBeth), Constance Mellows (Patricia), Lindsey Ravage (Ophelia), Elliot Schwartz (Romeo), Bill Sehres (Petruchio) and Kimberly Woods (Juliet).

The entire play takes place in the office of Dr. Patricia Cataldo (Constance Mellows), a psychotherapist with a few kinks of her own, which she all too freely shares with her clients to make them feel their problems are not that uncommon. And after assuring them she will not share their stories with anyone else, they all open up riotous humor erupts. Costume designer Michele Young dresses Ms. Mellows in a very modern business suit, and Ms. Mellows allows us to see the wild woman beneath all that.

Just as the good doctor is settling in, Hamlet and Ophelia (Paul Gunning and Lindsey Ravage) arrive for their first session. Seems the main problem between them, other than he killed her father (accidentally of course) is "Will I marry Ophelia or not marry Ophelia?" which pleases her not. Like all the actors in this production, Gunning and Ravage are perfectly cast and allow the audience to laugh with as well as at these classic characters. And you can't help but notice Gunning's stunning blue eyes that glimmer in the light as he speaks with the ghost of his father, as well as his total self-absorption which causes him to completely ignore what poor Ophelia has to say to the good doctor as well as throwing his used tissues anywhere he pleases. The doctor encourages both spend time alone and go to their imaginary "safe" place when the tension between them gets to be too much.

Next up we meet young teenagers Romeo and Juliet (Elliot Schwartz and Kimberly Woods), newly married and wondering how to tell their parents, especially since a recent fencing match caused deaths in both families now immersed in a bitter feud. During their session, the famous balcony scene is presented, or mocked if you will, with Juliet standing on the doctor's desk and Romeo knelling on the carpet below. These two young, hormone-ravaged teens must constantly be pulled apart by the good doctor, and much of the humor in the scene is fueled by sexual innuendo to roars of laughter from the audience. As they leave her office, Patricia counsels them to not do "anything rash" although she has already planted the seed of their downfall in Juliet's mind.

We meet the lovely and faithful wife Desdemona (Heather Keller) as she waits for Othello (Thomas Anthony Jones) to arrive for their session. She is patient as she knows a Captain's schedule changes from moment to moment. And when the mighty Moor makes his entrance, the gorgeously handsome Jones will leave no doubt in your mind how Desdemona could go against the wishes of her father to marry him. But their problem, of course, is his overwhelming jealousy that she will go after every other man when he is off on his missions with the Italian Army. And Desdemona questions Iago's obsession with her husband and what goes on between them when he is away. Theirs is also a hot relationship that enflames his jealousy and the good doctor counsels them to only kiss for 10 days so that Othello can truly appreciate the faithful woman he married. But he only agrees after Desdemona promises him exceedingly nasty rewards if he can wait.

Kate and Petruchio (Anne Leyden and Bill Sehres) are the LOUD older couple, their arguments fueling the passion between them. Leyden displays Kate's shrewish ways to the hilt, and Sehres' Petruchio flirts shamelessly with the good doctor and later with Juliet, much to Kate's wrath, just as her constant lateness and grand entrances enrage him. "Why can't it just be fun?" they ask. After their name-calling shouting match fuels their need to be together, they hurriedly leave the office. "Well at least," Dr. Cataldo reasons, "neither has killed anyone in each other's family."

MacBeth and Lady MacBeth (Anthony Gruppuso and Barbara Mallory) enter and demand that Dr. Cataldo bow down to them. After all, they are royalty. But this King of Scotland is merely the henpecked husband of his domineering wife who constantly leaves the room to wash her hands. "Perhaps she is an obsessive compulsive," counsels the good doctor to MacBeth during one of the Lady's bathroom breaks. But they have come for counseling because they want to be liked, then threaten to dismember anyone who still dislikes them. They laugh at the fact she guided him scot-free to be the Scot King by killing off others on their way to the throne. "Murder is such a chore," he admits. But that does not stop MacBeth from pulling a knife on the doctor after she counsels them to find another therapist. Gruppuso and Mallory make a fabulous couple, each playing off each other's words and movements seamlessly as if they really are a long-married couple.

After their individual sessions, Dr. Cataldo has them all come in for a group session, which at first turns into an examination of the doctor! Yes she has problems in her relationships, but then who doesn't? Watching all these great character sin the same room, comparing themselves to each other, was one of the most humorous scenes I have seen in a long while. At least Kate realizes that compared to Lady MacBeth, "I'm not that bad!"

Inevitably, Dr. Cataldo's case load is reduced by attrition, and if you know any of Shakespeare's plays then you'll know how that happens. This play, however, allows that perhaps the instigator was the good doctor herself, who finds she again must get out of town quickly when her clients start dropping like flies. Not even a call from Caesar himself can keep her there, advising him to call her after March 15. Surely you catch the humor in that, as you will in many such Shakespearean nods throughout this clever comedy.

Whether you're a fan of Shakespeare or just want to enjoy a hilarious comedy, go see CLASSIC COUPLES COUNSELING because laughter, after all, is the best therapy.

World Premiere comedy CLASSIC COUPLES COUNSELING written by Lloyd J. Schwartz. Directed by Ted Lange. Produced by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Anthony Gruppuso at the Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. There is municipal parking across the street. It is a very short walk from the Metro Line station. Performances March 21- April 27, 2014 on Fri. and Sat. at 8, Sun. at 7. Dark on April 20, Easter Sunday. There will be an added 1 p.m. performance on Sunday, April 13.

ADMISSION: $20. Students and seniors: $10.

RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-5774.


Photo credit: Dina Morrone

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