Things are finally looking very up for Alternative Repertory Theatre (ART). Following its move last year to downtown Santa Ana, attendance sagged. ART was banking that its production of John Patrick Shanley's contemporary sex comedy Psychopathia Sexualis would fill seats and prevent the end of ART's 13-year history.
But before the play even opened, two things happened to ensure ART's position as the county's premier small theater. A desperate solicitation drive netted more than $15,000, ensuring ART will have a season next year. Mere days after that announcement, the theater secured its first corporate sponsor: the Irvine office of BMC Software donated $50,000.
Great news. But artistically speaking, none of it matters if the work tanks. And that's the third cool piece of news: ART's production of Shanley's quirky sex comedy is a very entertaining staging of a very funny play, a fitting beginning to the newest chapter in ART's continuing history.
Best-known for his Oscar-winning screen treatment of Moonstruck, Shanley is also an accomplished playwright. He falls somewhere between Noel Coward and Woody Allen; his plays are well-made and sophisticated enough to appeal to the closet boulevardier in all of us but just bent and neurotic enough to provide a proper edge to the proceedings.
In Psychopathia Sexualis, that edge is supplied by a pair of socks owned by Arthur (Zack Durant), a painter afflicted with serious Freudian issues. We're talking way serious. Arthur needs the ragged pair of argyles—which once belonged to his father—in close proximity during lovemaking in order to bust his nut. But his psychiatrist, Dr. Block (Todd Fuessel), frustrated by six years without a breakthrough, has stolen the socks. With Arthur about to marry Lucille (Susan E. Taylor), the purloined socks are an obvious necessity. He begs his older male friend Howard (a fittingly starched John Bolen) and Lucille to match their wits and charm with the formidable Dr. Block and retrieve his socks.
This is a smartly written, utterly shameless comedy, in that all the big talk about neuroses, sexual perversion and psychoanalysis really doesn't add up to much. There are big ideas and concepts—Greek creativity vs. Roman linear thought, the Freud vs. Jung schism—but they're here solely to appear intellectual and make us laugh. Shanley is less interested in making intriguing points than in making fun of intriguing points.
To director Pat Terry's credit, she doesn't try to make the play feel more substantial than that. She moves things along briskly, helped by a quartet of strong performances, including Taylor's Lucille, a larger-than-life Texan filled with equal parts piss and whatever Texans are using for vinegar these days; she never relents in a one-note performance that is so funny and on-target that the one note reaches near-symphonic levels.
Psychopathia Sexualis at Alternative Repertory Theatre, 125 N. Broadway, Ste. B, Santa Ana, (714) 836-7929. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through June 24. $22-$25.