Three on a Couch
nytheatre.com review by Peter Schuyler
June 6, 2008
How will we be remembered when we pass away? How will the obituary read? For Stephen Marx, megalomaniacal author and one of the lead characters of Carl Djerassi's Three On A Couch, posthumous recognition isn't just an obsession, it's a mission.
Couch is the story of three wildly idiosyncratic people: Marx, world famous author of 13 novels; his wife, Miriam, former trophy wife-cum-owner of her own edible art empire; and the beleaguered Dr Theodore Hoffmann, a kind-hearted psychiatrist who tries to remain professional in the most impossible of situations.
The show opens with Marx playing on Hoffmann's couch, hinting at his obsession: to be the world's greatest author not once in a lifetime, but twice. Marx is a student of the work of Fernando Pessoa (Portugal's most famous poet) who wrote not only as himself but created heteronyms—different personas he would assume who wrote in styles markedly different from his own. Marx wants to take it one step further by faking his death and becoming a heteronym completely, creating a new literary masterpiece after his reincarnation. Hoffmann is understandably appalled, which does little to dissuade Marx. Once Marx "dies" his wife Miriam appears at Hoffmann's office ostensibly trying to make sense of her estranged husband's tragic death. I think it important to note that this play is a comedy and one of the funnier I've seen on stage in a long time. To say any more about the plot would be ruining a great theatrical treat.
Djerassi's play expertly mixes the genres film noir, commedia dell'arte, and broad farce into a hilarious cocktail of theatre. Everything is working here: the jokes come from all directions, both high and lowbrow. Elena Araoz's direction takes a highly intelligent and verbose script and wrings every last ounce of comedy out of it. The design complements the action with an expert touch, especially Susan Zeeman Rogers's set which resembles something one might expect to see at Dia:Beacon rather than Greenwich Village. Chloe Chapin's costumes add flash to the stage and Justin Townsend's lighting frames the action brilliantly.
The cast is firing on all cylinders as well. Imagine Leslie Nielsen married to Carol Burnett, with a young Richard Dreyfuss as their psychiatrist. Mark Pinter (best known for his work on All My Children and Another World) plays the megalomaniacal author to the film noir hilt, while still finding room for some well-placed clowning. Lori Funk plays Marx's estranged trophy wife like a boulder rolling downhill; once she gets started, nothing can stop her short of the curtain call. With two such powerful actors onstage, a third actor might be overshadowed completely. Unless that actor is Brad Fraizer. His nuanced portrayal of the world's most neurotic shrink is a study in comic dedication. He opens the show the way every great comedy should: with a brutally hilarious pratfall. His performance is the true gem of this piece and it should not be missed.
Three On A Couch is only around for four weeks, and if you miss your chance to see it, seek professional help.