Shock Treatment with 'Space Therapy'

Oh how proud Woody Allen would be.  Even while orbiting the Earth sometime in the future, neurotic tendencies and over-paid analysts consume people's hopeless lives, leading to mental breakdowns and far too gratuitous sex.  At least in scribe Justin Tanner's world, all of these things continue to permeate the public consciousness, plus, as is more often the case with his work, gay rights are thrown into the mix.

Space Therapy
, a screwball comedy full of outrageous humor and shock-tainment, is Tanner's latest work, which he also directs, making its world premiere at the Zephyr Theatre in West Hollywood.  This cult playwright, having co-written the long running Zombie Attack!, and more recently Oklahomo!, is up to his usual risqué fun once again with Space Therapy.

Floating through the vacuum of space while spinning around Earth, three married couples have signed up for a wild ride through a new-age therapy session conducted by Bryn Masters (Mary Scheer), a lunatic relationship guru all too willing to hurl vile names at her unsuspecting clients.  Each of the pairs bring with them years of acidic baggage that is nearly beyond repair, each representing an extreme aspect of the cultural divide that makes up America.

Russell and Connie, a bisexual husband and sexually repressed wife, are given life by two comic riots, French Stewart (TV's "3rd Rock from the Sun") and Julie Brown (writer and star of the film "Earth Girls are Easy"), each spending their time aboard the madcap spaceship getting even with each other by having affairs with the other couples on the trip.  These two are as sexually liberated as could be imagined, sure to give shock-jock Howard Stern a thing or two to comment on.

The staunch conservative couple, Dan (Jon Palmer) and Helen (Maile Flanagan), spend most of their time flaunting homophobic views while conveniently dipping into the adulterous pool all the while.  It cannot be a coincidence that they are the only two to sport red space suits, perhaps a dig at the Republican Party by openly gay playwright Tanner.  Which also could explain his inserting a first generation legally gay married couple in this anti-utopian future. 

Walter (Tom Fitzpatrick) and Lonny (Ed Martin) are recognizing their 22 years of marriage by nearing the depths of divorce.  Walter has recently beat cancer, and feels as though his younger husband no longer remains committed to their relationship.  Meanwhile, Walter spends his time humping the ships' synthetic human (Guilford Adams) as Lonny gives Russell a spin or two.  Although the characters hardly do much for gay rights, their droll humor when performed by Fitzpatrick and Martin is gut-busting fun.

With all of the madness that develops around the married folk, it is the devilish turn Scheer gives as the therapist that tops the play off.  Referring to the "ripe sense of failure" and demanding Helen to shut her "pig slot," Scheer's character is the main attraction of Space Therapy.  Tanner is great with sinful dialogue, which should certainly require the play to have an R-rating of sorts, as this is purely adult fun.

Gary Guidinger provides the retro-aged stage design, which is perfectly chic in a 1960's Star Trek fashion, kitschy and colorful in all the right places.  A sitcom in the sky, Space Therapy is laugh out loud hysterical and is sure to attract another cult-like following as Tanner's other works have been known to do.

Playing at the Zephyr Theatre, located at 7456 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, Space Therapy performs through April 15.  Ticket prices are $20 and are available by calling 323-852-9111.

Photos by Ed Krieger.  Top (L-R) Ed Martin, Guilford Adams and Maile Flanagan; Bottom (L-R) Maile Flanagan, Jon Palmer, French Stewart and Julie Brown.

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