In an unworkable amalgam of production overload and plot deprivation, Maria E. Jenson reimagines the fable of Hansel and Gretel updated to the plight of Angelenos Harry (Christopher Grossett) and Greta (Julianna Robinson), yuppies whose psyches are being devoured by the machinations of two agenda-driven psychotherapists. Jenson infuses the proceedings with myriad theatrical stylings and a plethora of accusatory psychobabble but fails to provide a meaningful dramatic throughline to buoy the action.
An inventive rotating circular set houses all the environments, and “Shrinks” employs the metaphor of a circuslike “carousel of sameness” that infects the relationship of successful but monumentally insecure ad exec Harry and his live-in lover, Greta. She’s a more earthbound, motorcycle-driving public defender. In impressively attractive perfs, Grossett’s Harry and Robinson’s Greta travel the circuitous thematic path laid out for them but are woefully undermined by the lack of a viable dramatic destination.
Jenson creates three sites of confrontational interaction: the Greta/Harry bedroom, the sterile Century City office of psychiatrist Ludevine Shredder (Sarah Lilly) and the Venice digs of her more holistically rooted psychologist son Herbert Shredder (Lorin McCraley).
When the troubled lovers aren’t hashing out their growing incompatibility in bed and beyond, Harry is being fed quick-fix analyses and a lot of drugs by a lascivious Ludevine, while Greta is receiving plenty of hemp, hugs and chants from cuddly bear Herbert.
These therapists are so monumentally flawed, it is impossible to believe that intelligent souls such as Harry and Greta would endure them for a single session, let alone turn their lives over to them. Yet, the scripter has to utilize two clunky, wildly improbable instances of professional betrayal to finally free the couple from their therapy imprisonments.
To liven up the proceedings, Jenson employs a farcical barker-narrator, Mr. Bluetooth (Patrick O’Sullivan), to enhance the carnival atmosphere of the work and a lithesome fantasy figure, Hypnoia (Erika Winters), to represent the repressed yearnings of Harry and Greta.
The impish antics of O’Sullivan provide a welcome diversion from the redundant doings on the carousel. And the second-act gyrations of scantily clad Winters (choreographed to great effect by Cindera Che) certainly make tangible the passions waiting to be unleashed once the psychological barriers restricting Harry and Greta have been lifted.