There’s a moment in Three on a Couch when one of the characters pays tribute to the man who invented the contraceptive pill back in the 1960s. A nod to the author Carl Djerassi who’s best known for just that invention, the line – for those in the know, in any case – raises one of the few titters in a distinctly unfunny evening of so-called comedy.
Set in a psychiatrist’s office in New York, Djerassi’s new three-hander revolves around an egomaniac novelist intent on faking his own death in order to ensure his literary afterlife. After his apparent suicide, the increasingly intimate relationship between his shrink and ‘widow’ – damn professional ethics – is jeopardised by the author’s unexpected (??) return and convoluted quest for immortality.
Scientist or no scientist, Djerassi is obviously a learned man and there are some intriguing conceits here, most notably the search for convincing heteronyms (literary alter-egos) inspired by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Unfortunately, he handles his wide-ranging ideas – including lots of Sigmund Freud psychobabble and food fetishes - in such a clumsy, ham-fisted manner that they’re robbed of any interest or humour.
It’s a wonder that director Andy Jordan has managed to attract such an accomplished cast to this mess of a play, and it’s to their immense credit that they emerge with dignity intact.
In fact, Michael Praed – drafted in at short notice when Owen Brenman wisely absconded, claiming ‘artistic differences’ (See News, 9 Mar 2004) – does very well to bring a lovely sweetness and a light comic touch to the timid psychiatrist. Rolf Saxon is suitably overblown as the big-headed author, too, achieving a brief moment of real poignancy when mourning the loss of his legacy.
For her part, Leigh Zimmerman has greater difficulties overcoming the play’s material weaknesses. When her character launches inexplicably into limericks and, even more so, when she’s forced to fellate a mango, you can’t help but cringe for her.
- Terri Paddock