It may not have as many infinite spirals, bicycles, and corrupt kings as Alfred Jarry would have liked, but John Patrick Shanley’s Psychopathia Sexualis is still a fitting addition to the SLO Little Theatre’s “Ubu’s Other Shoe” reading series. Shanley is best known for his 2004 play Doubt: a Parable, which won a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
He takes a decidedly different tone in this borderline-absurdist comedy, reminiscent of the works of his contemporaries Christopher Durang and David Lindsay-Abaire. Arthur, a struggling painter, is engaged to Lucille, a Texas socialite, with all the standard quirks and ticks that accompany each archetype. But Arthur has a secret fetish (a popular idea hilariously reprised in Lindsay-Abaire’s 2000 play Wonder of the World, which features an errant Barbie head—I’ll leave the rest to the imagination). He cannot “perform” (in the Biblical, rather than the theatrical, sense) without a pair of his father’s argyle socks present. Best friend Howard gets involved in the cover-up, and of course there’s a psychiatrist on hand to add a dash of sex-negativity to the mix.
Dr. Freud is so obviously in attendance here that he hardly needs mentioning, as well as his countryman, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who authored the study from which the play takes its name. The joy here isn’t in the plot or even in the character development; rather, the energy comes from the clever and quirky dialogue that flies back and forth between characters. Are the characters somewhat stock? Of course they are—this is a farce. You need stock characters to offset the absurdity, like a “straight man” in a comedy duo.
Psychopathia Sexualis a classic “comedy” in the Aristotelian sense, which begins in chaos and ends in order. But that doesn’t make the journey any less droll.
Directed by Cal Poly Arts’ Lisa Woske, the play stars Jonathon Shadrach, Gregg Wolff, Maggie Coons, Deborah Bertling, and John Geever. The fact that they will be “on book” should guarantee that not a drop of this sharply-written script will be lost to the well of forgetfulness.
Psychopathia Sexualis plays Friday, March 21, and Saturday, March 22, at 7 p.m., with a discussion to follow Friday’s performance. For more information, call 786-2440 or visit slolittletheatre.org.