Sessions: Doctor In The Dark

By: Jun. 13, 2007

In the classic Moss Hart/Ira Gershwin/Kurt Weill psychoanalysis musical, Lady in The Dark, a magazine editor can't make up her mind over which cover to use for her next issue, prompting her to sing a little saga about a girl named Jenny.  In composer/lyricist/bookwriter Albert Tapper's new psychoanalysis musical, Sessions, a therapist can't make up his mind over what to do about his lack of progress with his patients, particularly the blonde temptress who is in no way subtle about her attraction and availability, prompting him to sing a lyric that offers nothing more insightful than its title, "I'm Only Human."

There's a lot of cuteness going on in Sessions, a pocket-sized show where group therapy conveniently provides a chorus whenever an emotional crisis turns lyrical.  Dr. Peterson's (Matthew Shepard) roster of patients is certainly a colorful, if not especially unfamiliar, bunch.  There's the shy would-be lover who lives with his mom (Scott Richard Foster), the constantly bickering couple (Bertilla Baker and Jim Madden), the fellow who thinks he's Bob Dylan (David Patrick Ford), the wealthy real estate tycoon (Al Bundonis) who buys towering skyscrapers in an effort to gain acceptance from his father, the woman who grew up with an alcoholic mother (Kelli Maguire) and the lusty blonde (Amy Bodnar) who is well-versed in seduction.  A less comical tone is used in dealing with the battered wife (Trisha Rapier) who bears her husband's abuse in appreciation for his undying support during her double mastectomy.

With Dr. Peterson going through therapy himself (dramatized with dialogues with a voice provided by Ed Reynolds Young) it would seem the issue of a therapist so unable to connect with the people who are paying him for help that he would place himself on the couch would be pushed to the forefront, but Tapper's musical is more of a loosely connected collection of subplots that frame some jaunty showtune melodies containing rather mundane lyrics.  The author has some interesting ideas, but he doesn't prove himself capable of expressing them with the required depth.

With director/choreographer Steven Petrillo's likeable, well-singing cast giving it all an enthusiastic shot, especially when executing the somewhat cluttered choreography, the lighter moments of Sessions are surely smile-worthy.  There's Ford's comical Dylan impression, Foster and Bodnar's spiffy little song and dance about the unhealthy root of his boosted confidence and the upbeat "message" song, "You Should Dance."  But when Sessions tries to get serious, there isn't enough of a foundation built to make underwritten ballads like "I Never Spent Time With My Dad" and "This Is One River I Can't Cross" inspire any empathy.

Peter Barbieri, Jr.'s attractive set, with glass brick walls opening up to an office overlooking a nicely stylized Manhattan skyline, suggests a smart, urban atmosphere which Sessions fails to properly inhabit.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top:  Matthew Shepard and Amy Bodnar

Center:  David Patrick Ford and Kelli Maguire

Bottom:  Jim Madden, Kelli Maguire and Bertilla Baker