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Theater Review : ‘Backstrokes’: An Awkward Stab at Humor

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At one point in “Backstrokes,” a frustrated therapist loses his unflappable composure and tries to strangle a patient.

In psychoanalysis jargon, this episode is an example of “countertransference.” But in Joseph A. Volpi’s clunky comedy about romance in the ‘90s, it’s just another awkward stab at humor.

Actors Circle Theatre’s “Backstrokes,” like David Mamet’s quintessential ‘70s sex comedy “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” follows the love lives of two couples, in this case married yuppies Arthur (Mike Esposito) and June (Susan Gayle Watts) and confirmed singles Joey (Cress Williams) and Lita (Jennifer Taylor Scott).

One need not be a relationship counselor to guess how it will all turn out. Despite an air of trendiness, this long one-act traffics in cliches that are at least as old as the 20-something cast. While the real world has moved on to Prozac and monogamy, these characters are stuck joking about Valium and casual sex.

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The actors do their best, but no one can really play exchanges like this one: “Commitment and responsibility are what hold society together.” “I thought that’s what Elmer’s glue was for!”

Volpi also directed, sans Elmer’s.

* “Backstrokes,” Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Ends Sept. 3. $10. (213) 882-8043. Running time: 2 hours.


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