Psychopathia Sexualis is a thinking person’s sex farce. The premise has to do with a guy who can’t perform in bed unless he’s in visual contact with a pair of his father’s argyle socks. But, hey — lots of us struggle with that same neurosis. (I know I do.)
Oh, I know what you’re thinking: Guy has a strange sex fetish, confesses it to his pal; word leaks to the guy’s fiancée; complications ensue; your typical door-slamming bedroom farce.
Wrong. Playwright John Patrick Shanley takes the locker-room jokes in unexpected directions having to do with power struggles, gender politics and the profession of psychiatry. It’s not the kind of silliness that makes you feel as if you just lost brain cells. It’s the kind of silliness you have to earn by ruminating on what fools these mortals be, then recognizing yourself among the fools.
While director Reed McColm’s production elicits plenty of laughs, this particular Psychopathia isn’t as funny as it should be — partly due to the script, partly because of the execution. On the one hand, Shanley’s script appeals simultaneously to both brain and funny bone — asking us, in effect, to reflect and react at the same time. McColm’s cast, on the other hand, both over- and under-plays their characters’ eccentricities.
But make no mistake: With all the Freudian stuff going on here — transference, projection, slips — there’s plenty to laugh at here as Arthur confides in Howard, only to have Lucille and Ellie learn all about it. All the secrets and analysis explode into a game of trying to outsmart the shrink with the symbolic name, Dr. Block.
Two performances are standouts. As Arthur, the guy with the socks hang-up, Dan Anderson embodies comic exasperation: He stomps the floor, does deep knee-dips, lunges crazily across the floor, shakes his fists and then his limp wrists. Then he whines, “I just need the socks!” As Arthur’s fiancée, Caryn Hoaglund-Trevett plays a Daddy’s girl who regards wedding preparations as a good excuse for going on a rampage. Girlish with excitement, slit-eyed when surprised, Lucille is the kind of pampered Texan who puts a target on her man’s back and takes aim: Bridezilla on the Brazos. Watch Hoaglund-Trevett’s body language in the scene when she visits the shrink to size him up: luxuriously reclining, then circling in for the kill.
As Arthur’s buddy, though, Damon Abdallah settles for snooty hauteur. Two long initial scenes — Howard reveals that Arthur has a problem, Howard learning just what that problem is — drag with exposition, and the two friends’ trepidation over male bonding seemed unclear at times and overplayed at others.
In an underwritten role as the friend’s gossip-monger wife, Bethany Hart is properly wide-eyed with curiosity but needs to establish Ellie’s search for schadenfreude even more.
As the Freudian shrink, John Hart needs to increase his eccentricity and his volume. Linebobbles and a lack of clarity undermined some of the psychiatrist’s comic monologues.
Psychopathia is filled with weaknesses meant to be exploited. A man who investigates others’ neuroses while remaining blind to his own is subject to being humiliated. A psychiatrist who possesses penetrating insight but can’t actually seem to cure his patients is liable to be, well, humiliated. A prospective bride who’s blind to her man’s foibles — well, before she ever gets caught with her panties down, she’s going to do some humiliating of her own.
In Psychopathia, other people’s sexual peccadilloes turn out to be a source of good, wholesome fun.
Psychopathia Sexualis delivers smart sex jokes at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St., through May 29 on Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, and Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm. Tickets: $15-$21; $10, student rush. Visit interplayers.com or call 455-PLAY.