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Three Stars

Photo by Carol Rosegg
Angelica Page and Jeffrey Carlson
Angelica Page and Jeffrey Carlson
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(Review by Tulis McCall)

Well THIS is an unexpected pleasure! Frank Strausser has written a play that is acerbic and a little vague and also sort of touching. I know – that sounds odd but then people are odd, and that is what Strausser likes about us.

Nancy Winston (Jan Leslie Harding) is a therapist who treads that fine line between sanity and obsessive-compulsive. It appears as though her clients neuroses have rubbed off on her in the most charming way. We first see her returning calls to her clients while she twirls in her desk chair, flinging out bits of advice like treasures from a Mardi-Gras float.

Lily (Angelica Page) a statuesque and slightly ditzy woman whose only real commitment in life seems to be to the 12” high green sling backs she is wearing, appears as half of a marital counseling session. Nancy refuses her entry until push does come to shove, and it becomes a session for uno. That is until Lily’s partner does show up. Except he is not the partner du-jour, but a certain Dorian person who was spurned months ago. He is here to worm his way back into Lily’s life. As neither he nor Lily divulge the charade, Nancy is free to work her wizardry on the couple – and it seems to work fine.

Next we find Lily at dinner with her actual beau of the moment, Philip (Laurence Lau) who makes several attempt to propose, all of which are rebuffed by Lily. The stories unravel with both men pledging themselves to Lily before Nancy is included in on the situation. While the ménage is having their fun, we watch Nancy’s life come unglued as she deals with her daughter’s sex life and her own addiction to chocolate.

Strausser has written some damn funny scenes that border on vaudeville but end up being intimate and touching. The dinner with Philip and Lily is a piece of relationship poetry. They jab, they parry. They assume. They interrupt. And the moments of solitude that Nancy has in her office are pure gems.

All the actors are excellent comedians who understand that a little goes a long way. In particular Ms. Harding has found the pathetic gritty off-center of Dr. Winston that lets us laugh at her while we understand that she is our mirror. Ms. Page has a gift for being clearly confused in the face of facts. Both Lau and Carlson are clowns disguised as straight men. This is a fine ensemble that will not let you down for a second.

The story itself gets lost in the last third of the play. It almost feels as though Strausser were writing with a time commitment and had to wrap everything up. What was nuanced becomes nearly slapstick (the doctor demands to see Philip’s ID, but not Dorian’s for instance) resulting in scenes that outlive their usefulness, With such a rich set-up, it is a mildly disappointing conclusion.

Strausser has a gift for ferreting out all the weird bits we carry around with us as we all struggle to appear normal. Next time out here is hoping he trusts his instincts to tie the tale together with the Roman Candles it deserves.

What the popular press said...

"More entertaining than it ought to be."
Daniel M. Gold for New York Times

"A painfully attenuated 90 (minutes)."
Frank Scheck for New York Post

"Frank Strausser's flimsy excuse for a play features hoary humor, one-dimensional characters, and broad staging."
David Sheward for Back Stage

"Quickly dwindles into laugh-free tedium."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Post - Back Stage - Newsroom Jersey -

Production Details
Venue: Cherry Lane Theatre
Genre: Comedy
Previewed: 17 Jan 2012
Opened: 7 Feb 2012
Closed: 25 Feb 2012
Playwright: Frank Strausser
Director: not credited
Cast: Angelica Page, Jan Leslie Harding, Laurence Lau and Jeffrey Carlson.
Synopsis: Lily's fiancée Phillip blows off couples therapy and Dorian, her hot young ex-boyfriend, jumps in to fill the void. When the trio ends up on the couch together, only therapist Nancy Winston can untangle the kinks.


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