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Theater Review: 'Doctor Anonymous' a reality check on evolving views of gays

Considering the fast-changing attitudes toward homosexuality in this country, it’s worth remembering that homosexuality was listed as a specific mental illness until 1974, when the American Psychiatric Society removed it from its manual of mental disorders.

That watershed decision features heavily in Guy Fredrick Glass’ “Doctor Anonymous,” now in its world premiere at the Zephyr. A practicing psychiatrist as well as a playwright, Glass is a gay man who personally witnessed the endemic prejudice of the psychiatric profession, and who brings that personal perspective to bear in his play.

As a barometer of just how quickly societal mores can change, “Doctor” holds great sociological interest. However, it is a tonally haphazard piece that vacillates between the cartoonish and the quotidian, never quite settling into a consistent voice. Director John Henry Davis and a committed cast try to bridge the stylistic gaps in their material, but their efforts are only partially successful.

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Set in Philadelphia in the late 1960s to early 1970s, the action revolves around carefully closeted Matthew (Matt Crabtree), who is struggling to establish himself as a psychiatrist. Matthew is torn between his love for Jake (Kevin Held), an ardent gay rights activist, and his Svengali-esque mentor, Edward (authoritative Barry Pearl, in the standout turn of the evening), a conversion therapist who specializes in “curing” his gay patients.

Matthew’s torturous therapy sessions with Edward are spellbinding, the most successful scenes in the production. Matthew’s intense, doomed relationship with Jake is also well-delineated. The other characters, however, are so broadly comic that they seem to have wandered in from a different play.

Joel Daavid’s set and lighting are typically excellent. Troy Hauschild’s indispensable projection design includes vintage film clips, circa the 1960s, in which various “professionals” hold forth about the aberration of homosexuality. It’s a fascinating and sickening display that reminds us how far we in this country have come — and how far we still have to go.

“Doctor Anonymous,” Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 4. $25. (323) 960-7724. www.plays411.com/doctor Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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