By Bryson David Hoff
People do crazy things for love. It’s a cliché for a reason and a rich well for storytelling. Death & Pretzels world premiere of Musical Therapy is a dark, raunchy comedy that plays on this desperation to create an evening of theatre that is charming and inventive, if lacking a bit in polish.
The play follows the exploits of unscrupulous and lonely couples’ counselor Theresa (Haley Mozer), who becomes obsessed with the hunky and clueless Will (Ethan Peterson) when he moves in next door. When she discovers he is dating Beth (Taylor Toms), she hatches a plan involving de- and re-coupling several of her patients that would result in her and Will getting together. Her machinations, and their subsequent unraveling, form the spine of the plot.
Mozer is expert in her comic delivery and does a good job of keeping a character whose behavior ranges from tactless to outright despicable oddly endearing in her utter obliviousness. The real heart of the show, however, comes in the form of her two client couples: overgrown bro Ryder (Matt Lamson) whose high-sex drive is butting up against his girlfriend Liz’s (Emma Palizza) unspoken lesbianism, and BDSM enthusiast Darcie (Erika Hakmiller) whose kink has started to cross too many boundaries for the straight-laced Tim (Sean Caron). Though, on paper, all four can easily as broad stereotypes, each performer imbues their performance with nuance that make these characters more than just caricatures.
Also to be commended is director Madison Smith’s inventive staging, which makes use of a set of four stools/tables to create a myriad of locations and her small cast of seven to form, at a number of points, a chorus of therapeutic sock puppet minions. The lo-fi aesthetic fits perfectly with the Second City-style comedic premise and Gorilla Tango’s cabaret stage, with its exposed brick wall, creates a better backdrop for the locally set show than any arrangement of flats could hope to conjure.
Joey Katsiroubas’s score bounces with an Avenue Q-esque irreverent fun, with at least a few earworms in the bunch. His lyrics, though, are the real standout, as creating humor in song form is one of the most difficult tricks in musical theatre writing. The many instances of laughter elicited in the song sequences, combined with the masterful use of rhyme, make for an impressive comedic voice.
That the show is funny is unquestionable, as is the talent of the creative team. However, the piece does show its newness at points: The plot takes a bit longer than necessary to reveal itself and the resolution comes perhaps a bit too quick at the ending. These are understandable pacing issues for a first production of a new piece of theatre, though, and should not be taken as damning criticism for what is, ultimately, a fine effort put forth by all involved that would make for fine date night for those inclined towards the more adult side of musical comedy.
Death & Pretzels presents “Musical Therapy” through June 10 at Gorilla Tango Theatre 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.