Story & photos by Rebecca Stone
For the TODAY
One man’s dreams are another man’s potboiler in the latest production from Lincoln City’s Theatre West.
Park Avenue psychoanalyst Victor Karleen has a cash flow problem. Between the lavish redecorating of his upscale New York combination apartment/office at the hands of his fiancée and his desire to take her on a honeymoon cruise in the Caribbean, his income just isn’t cutting it. What’s a shrink to do?
Presented by Theatre West, “Meanwhile, Back on the Couch,” is a comedic farce in which Victor, played with a kind of edgy desperation by Don Bambrough, is confronted with a novel, yet ethically questionable strategy for boosting his bottom line. Initially, his plan is to publish a collection of case histories. His self-satisfied colleague Roy Terrigan (Steve Griffiths) recently did just that and is now raking in the royalties. But when his publisher and friend Parker Donnelly, portrayed by a pensive Bryan Kirsch, informs him that there is currently no market for such a book, and that he’d be better off penning a steamy novel, because — well — sex sells, his dreams start to disintegrate. Until a new patient lands on his couch and starts sharing some dreams of a different nature.
Hapless Albert Brock, played in a hilarious turn by Ren Jacob, is unspeakably pedantic. Romantically frustrated, his repressed emotions emerge in the form of X-rated serial dreams — which he is helpfully jotting down on paper to aid in his analysis — one episode at a time. Praising him for his foresight, Victor asks sassy nurse, Charlotte Hennebon, a role shared by Patti Siberz and newcomer Cathye Wehr, to type up the notes for him, and doesn’t give them a second thought.
But as Charlotte begins to read the notes, she assumes that they’re the draft of a novel penned by the doc. It’s just the sort of fodder one would need for a steamy bodice-ripper of a novel — the kind that sells. On top of that, it’s a tantalizing cliffhanger of a whodunit. She’s hooked.
When Parker comes looking for Victor to tell him that there may be a chance that his book of case histories will be published after all, Charlotte shares the notes with him. Parker subsequently informs Victor that he could have a blockbuster on his hands. Now it is Victor’s imagination that is working overtime.
By the time Victor discovers that Parker is referring to Albert’s dream log, not his case histories, the publisher is dangling a hefty advance in front of him, plus a shot at Book of the Month and a Pulitzer Prize. The one fly in the ointment, though, is that Albert has to keep dreaming to finish the story.
In this 1972 Jack Sharkey comedy, shenanigans and plot twists ensue as cash-strapped Victor weighs professional ethics against a chance for fame and fortune. Among the Theatre West regulars is Tricia Chandler, who brings Victor’s fiancée, Gabrielle Wingate, to life with a mix of good taste and good sportsmanship. Assistant director Alice Luchau does double duty as Albert’s grandmother, Dorthea Melnik, a saucy, savvy and slightly unhinged Reader’s Digest devotee. Brianna Smith, as Victor’s scavenger-hunting neighbor, Jingle Jabonski, delivers a refreshing bit of free-spiritedness to the group of characters that drift in and out of Victor’s office.
Directed by Theatre West stalwart Rich Emery, “Meanwhile, Back on the Couch” is an entertaining romp populated by a number of seasoned Theatre West actors.
“I like having a large cast,” Emery said. “The more people you have, the more you can spread the wealth around.”
Emery adds that one of the challenges of a play of this nature is to reflect the era in which it takes place.
“We try to get the costumes as close to period as possible,” he said. In this case, that task fell to Patti Siberz and the cast.
The set is also a period reflection. With Andrew Schmitz as stage manager, lights and sound by Kate Daschel, lighting design by Mark Akey, Victor’s office is colorful and rich. Reminders of the ‘70s are conjured in a vintage turntable stereo, wet bar (to which many visits are made), a ubiquitous rubber plant, and splashes of art, including a mobile and Rorschach-style mural by local artist Julie Fiedler.
But amidst the retro vibe remains the central problem of Victor’s financial shortcomings. Will Albert finish his dream sequence? Will Victor hang onto his professional ethics or will he cash in on Albert’s dreams? Will Nurse Charlotte remain perpetually single? There’s only one way to discover the answers to these questions and others.
“Meanwhile, Back on the Couch” runs through March 31, with performances at 7:30 pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening and one 2 pm Sunday matinée on March 25. Theatre West is located at 3536 SE Hwy. 101. Tickets are $15 for adults and $13 for seniors and students. For reservations, call 541-994-5663.