Imagine, if you will, all beloved Kings and commoners, Princes and plebeians from our collective childhoods on–in all their gleaming poetic glory–reduced to the problem deducing and appointment making capacity of your average run of the mill, urban adult-dysfunction, and you’ve got the Lloyd J. Schwartz penned, Ted Lange directed, “Classic Couples Counseling”.
Near the corner of Lankershim and Magnolia, just slightly off the beaten path of the NOHO Arts district, sits a red gem of a small building aptly named The Secret Rose Theatre. At roughly 99 seats wide, rather than deep, its panoramic feel belies its somewhat hidden and wallflowerish presence. Fairly diagonally—well very diagonally–across the street from Sitton’s—a classic North Hollywood eatery, one might grab dinner or dessert after the performance; and decidedly across the street from the North Hollywood Greyhound station, one could bus it from anywhere in the continental U.S. (or at the very least, the Tri-State area) to see a performance mounted here.
It is opening night, March 21st, 2014, and the venue is packed and brimming with all manner of assumed venerable television, stage and film actors I just know I have seen before. Even the box office representative who takes my name at the door looks familiar and assures me, he too, takes the stage just as regularly, if not more so, than he takes tickets!
As we settle in our seats, we are given all the basic introductory information: Exit locations, allusions to keeping our cell phones at bay and any noise in general—candy wrappers in particular, “’Cause Lady MacBeth is in the play,” we are warned “and you don’t want to make noise!”
The theatre’s black and red color scheme is one of my favorites and the red rose, in my opinion, one of the soil’s most superlative floras. This combination alone will set the tone for the evening in which I am about to partake…
So…what if Lady MacBeth had been diagnosed with OCD, manifest through excessive hand washing? What if The Taming of the Shrew’s Petruchio was discovered to have been bipolar in his treatment, entreaties and then mistreatment towards Kate? What if Ophelia’s prime complaint towards her mate, was that she just thought Hamlet was “wishy washy” (rather than Pig-headed?—Ha ha!) So explores “Classic Couples Counseling” in a rousing set of psychiatric appointments each dedicated to various and renowned Shakespearian couples’ most noted dysfunctions.
Set in a modern day therapist’s office, the play unfolds as our good doctor Patricia Cataldo, played aptly and familiarly, by the elegant Constance Mellors, helps guide each of our couples through the slings and arrows of their dysfunction deep within and during the winter of their discontent (and right after the first day of spring no less…)
Cataldo will help steer Hamlet, played by a comedically Phil Hartmanesque Paul Gunning and Ophelia portrayed by the lovely and temperately forceful Lindsay Ravage, through not only Ophelia’s frustration with Hamlet’s “wishy washiness” but Hamlet’s irritation that, “She has to be pushed into everything! Frailty, thy name is woman!” To top it all off, according to Ophelia, “He’s got this real obsession with death, ghosts, skulls…his family’s so screwed up…[and once when I wanted to talk about feelings] he said, “Get thee to a nunnery!” Hamlet will eventually admit that he was mad at his mother, not Ophelia, and that he “didn’t really mean it”!
Cataldo’s primary concern regarding Romeo, played by a loveable, somewhat gangly, Elliott Schwartz and Juliet portrayed by an adorable, Minnie Mouse-voiced Kimberly Woods, aside from the familial feuding, (plus the most emphatic of swordplay, minus Richard Dawson and all his smarmy kisses) revolves around their ages—13!
Juliet-Things are different now…thirteen’s the new twenty!…
Cataldo-How are you going to support her?
Romeo-(proudly) People can always use a good swordsman!
Desdemona, played by a no-nonsense, willful Heather Keller, having arrived at their appointment much earlier than Othello, portrayed by a smooth and swashbuckling Thomas Anthony Jones, laments his lateness by confiding, “He’s probably off with Iago doing God knows what. Iago is such a kiss ass…I suspect [he] wants to be more than friends [with my husband].” On top of it all, her father is a “bigot” who just thought she “was going through a phase” when she married the moor. Othello’s lack of trust in his wife rears its inevitable head when he finally arrives only to prompt Desdemona to ask, “Are you going to bring up that damned handkerchief thing again?”
Kate and Petruchio, played respectively and comedically by Bill Sehres and Anne Leyden give as good as they get in their sundry and various jabs until Cataldo intervenes and suggests they do some healthy role reversal playing, but not before speculating that, based on our male protagonist’s hot and cold behavior towards Kate, that he may be suffering from bipolar disorder as he is “so different than the man who courted [me]…”
Oh and lest we forget…the MacBeths, played by the deliciously imposing Barbara Mallory along with the hilariously squinty-eyed and maritally earnest, Anthony Grupposo…well, let’s just say you don’t want to mess with the MacBeths—as the opening announcement hath decreed. And hey, let’s face it, Lady MacBeth has a certain obsession with cleansing the symptoms of her own messes to the tune of Dr. Cataldo’s early onset OCD diagnosis. Anyway, aside from all the uh…killings and uh…power plays that come with their newfound royalty, I would have to say that I agree that they are totally codependent otherwise! (Dr. Cataldo eventually encourages MacBeth to take up a hobby, “…how ‘bout fly fishing”? But, I’m thinking, to no avail… All I’m saying…)
I thought this story would stop right here, i.e. as individual scenes wherein each of the couples has their respective heads examined. But oh no! Dr. Cataldo inspires a group therapy session with all five nearly divorce-bound duos to delightful drollness in discussion and debate!
From here, the plot thickens and involves a man in a dark trench coat and sunglasses rapping at Cataldo’s portal as though a glitch has been detected in The Matrix, a series of mysterious and distressing phone calls…and a stuffed monkey named “Sylvia”!
Will Lady MacBeth wash her hands of therapy or simply wash her hands of washing her hands all together? Will Kate and Petruchio realize the error of their ways and the granted for which they take each other in life’s grand comedy? Will Hamlet continue his obsession with ghosts and skulls on this earthly plane of existence or elsewhere…and if elsewhere might that obsession be rendered moot anyway?
For answers to these and all other pertinent questions, please visit:
www.Plays411.com/classic to order tickets or call: (323) 960-5774
“Classic Couples Counseling” runs through April 27th 2014 at the Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA, 91601. There is municipal parking across the street and it is a very short walk from the North Hollywood Metro station.
Show times encompass: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm. (Dark on April 20th, Easter Sunday.) There will be an added performance at 1 pm on Sunday April 13th.