References to Jung, analyses of dreams and debate over gender politics might leave audiences puzzling over "Psychopathia's" hidden meanings. But this cigar is just a cigar, and urges to overanalyze should be repressed: Even if much of what Shanley has to say has been said before, he says it funnier and with more bite than anyone outside a Woody Allen film.

References to Jung, analyses of dreams and debate over gender politics might leave audiences puzzling over “Psychopathia’s” hidden meanings. But this cigar is just a cigar, and urges to overanalyze should be repressed: Even if much of what Shanley has to say has been said before, he says it funnier and with more bite than anyone outside a Woody Allen film.

With only one cast change since “Psychopathia” debuted at the Seattle Repertory Theater in April, the production onstage at the Taper, directed by Seattle Rep artistic director Daniel Sullivan, couldn’t be more nimble. Characters that in real life would scarcely inhabit the same neighborhood, much less the same social milieu, are played with such crowd-pleasing polish that pointing out the disparities seems like little more than quibbling.

TX: TX:A Center Theatre Group, Music Center of Los Angeles County, Mark Taper Forum presentation of a play in two acts by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Sets , Andrew Wood Boughton; costumes, Jane Greenwood; Central character is Arthur (Matt Servitto), a downtown-type artist about to marry a Texas deb. But Arthur’s cold feet are not the usual pre-wedding jitters: A fetishist who can’t perform sexually without his father’s argyle socks, Arthur is left panic-stricken when his therapist, Dr. Block (John Aylward), kidnaps the footwear as one final attempt at a cure.

“This might sound paranoid,” Arthur tells pal Howard (Gregory Itzin), “but I’m worried that my psychiatrist might be … evil.” Arthur enlists Howard’s assistance in retrieving the socks from Block’s office, and Howard, with his own psychological agenda to achieve a male bonding experience at least once in his life, jumps in with soldier-like fervor.

The play’s two acts are broken into four scenes, with each essentially a two-hander. Opening scene between Arthur and Howard gives way to Howard’s visit to the Machiavellian Dr. Block, an encounter that provides the play’s sharpest, most scathingly funny lines. The arrogant Howard, whose pomposity masks a critically wounded male ego, is stripped of all defenses as the brilliantly cruel — and, in Aylward’s performance, brilliantly funny — shrink unleashes an on-the-spot personality analysis. Every barb hits its target, leaving Howard, “a mean-spirited little rat,” fetal and whimpering.

The women — Arthur’s fiance, Lucille (Park Overall), and Howard’s wife, Ellie (Talia Balsam) — take over the second act, with Ellie breaking the news to an unsuspecting Lucille that her betrothed is a pervert with “magic, creepy socks.” Ellie’s glee in bearing the bad news is lost on no one, but Lucille, a tough, John Wayne-worshipping Texan with more true grit than all the men combined, rises to the occasion, the stage set for her climactic encounter with the unscrupulous Dr. Block.

It’s easy to snipe at Shanley’s simplistic gender divisions — men as perpetual adolescents incapable of connection and dependent on emotionally superior women who all but hand them their socks, er, manhood — but the playwright’s smart, comic dialogue can be so dizzying that audiences will be heading home before recognizing the flaws.

That’s particularly true with this production, performed and directed at such a lively pace that the nonsensical grouping of a painter, Dallas socialite and Manhattan career woman barely registers.

“It’s a roundabout road between sex and affection,” one character notes. “Psychopathia Sexualis” glides over every pothole.

Psychopathia Sexualis

Production

Psychopathia Sexualis (Mark Taper Forum; 760 seats; $ 35.50 top)

Crew

Lights, Pat Collins; sound, Steven M. Klein; resident sound designer, Jon Gottlieb; casting, Stanley Soble, Meg Simon; production stage manager, Mary Michele Miner. Artistic director, Gordon Davidson; managing director, Charles Dillingham; producing director, Robert Egan. Opened, reviewed May 22, 1996. Runs through June 30. Running time: 1 hour, 45 min.

With

Cast: Gregory Itzin (Howard), Matt Servitto (Arthur), John Aylward (Dr. Block), Park Overall (Lucille), Talia Balsam (Ellie). For once, psychotherapy yields quick results. "Psychopathia Sexualis," John Patrick Shanley's couch comedy about a fetishist whose life is turned upside down by an evil shrink, might not stand up to deep analysis, but as light comedy it works harder and more effectively than a whole team of Freudians.

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