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Footlight goes for big laughs in Annoyance

A Shrink's Nightmare

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Therapists have it easy. After either diagnosing or reaffirming the smorgasbord of disorders their patients bring them, they wash their hands. No need to become invested, frazzled, or saddened by the plights of their patients' paranoia, schizophrenia, or depression. It just comes with the territory, and after all, time is money.

As it turns out, the cost of one shrink's 50-minute session is a bit higher than expected in the Footlight Players' Annoyance, directed by David Moon. At the end of her $150 session with the "hateful, insidious, and unlovable" Ethan Steckler (played by David Graham), Dr. Anita Wells (Jessica Spaid) ends up in a hospital straight jacket.

While it's doubtful that a mere 50 minutes with a client could have such an adverse effect on a professional, let's go with it. Stomping into Wells' office, Steckler declares he has a "minor personality defect."

"I'm sure you can nip it in the bud," he tells the very-put-together Wells. But two minutes into his session, it's clear to everyone but Wells that will be impossible.

Lounging in his chair, his feet on the table, slurping his drink, Steckler answers all Wells' questions about his family and childhood candidly. We learn he's a pyromaniac who kills cats and quite possibly pushed his mother off a train to her death. He didn't hate his father because they rarely spoke, and he's hated by every friend, family member, coworker, and stranger he's ever met. The whole first scene is a push-and-pull between Steckler's need to provoke and Wells' need to stay calm.

Director Moon does a good job of accentuating the contrasts between the actors onstage at all times. Graham, channeling a five-year-old punk, seems truly comfortable on stage and in his role as the therapist's nightmare. In Steckler's second session — with Dr. Sidney Gates (Bradley Smith), Wells' husband — Graham gnaws at his beef jerky in spurts of ambivalence and anger, and the way he obnoxiously uses his slurpy cup for comedic effect hits the right notes.

At times however, Graham spends too much time with each word in his unnavigable stream-of-conscious dialogue fishing for laughs; as a result, the story drags. (He also employs an excessive amount of air quotes.)

Spaid is significantly upstaged by Graham, probably since he's got all the best lines, but she eventually comes into her own when Wells and Steckler do a little role-playing. As Dr. Gates, Bradley Smith perfectly embodies the uptight, rich, and slightly anal shrink, but I just kept waiting for him to let go a bit more.

The Footlight Players do a good job of working with the props and the script in Annoyance. The set design is quite minimal, as all three scenes take place in the same therapist's office (centered around the cushy chairs that seat the actors), and the script — written by Sam Bobrick (The Andy Griffith Show, Get Smart, The Flintstones, Saved by the Bell) — is, well, annoying, as one would hope that it was designed to be.

However, the spirit of this play and the enthusiasm displayed by the actors is commendable. You might find yourself relating to the little menace inside Steckler, or you just might want to hop onstage and strangle him yourself.

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