Tucked away on East 24th Street is The Algonquin Theater, a duplex house that you would miss if you sneezed. That would be too bad, because it is a beauty. Sessions was produced in 2007 at Playwrights Horizons and has chosen to reincarnate here.
The talent in this show matches the theater, excellent working actors whom most of us don’t know well. The book and lyrics for this musical, however, don’t prove to be of equal weight.
The story is predictable in its construction. A therapist discovers his own life unraveling as he dispenses advice and care to his clients. One by one the characters reveal their dilemmas to us in song. Everyone has a breakthrough of one kind or another. The end.
The characters themselves are iconic – people who have given their power away to parents, ex-lovers, and spouses. There is nothing new here. To make it worse, the author keeps each character secluded in her or his own bubble, which makes this production more a series of one-person performances than an ensemble piece. This is a startling achievement because the setting for Sessions is group therapy. He chose a perfect setting in which characters could engage one another, and then wrote a story in which no one does.
The exception to this disconnect is the almost love affair between Dr. Peterson and one of his clients, Leila. When the play opens, Leila has left group therapy and is estranged from everyone except the doctor, to whom she returns for private sessions and romantic propositions. The problem with this relationship is that we never see why these two people are attracted to one another. I know more about Shrek and Fiona than I ended up knowing about these two. Why are they drawn to one another? Dr. Peterson is a nice guy who feels out of control around his client and frustrated by the state of his marriage. Normal enough. Leila looks great, but she has no life, no story. The only unique quality Leila possesses is that she dresses like a model. The other characters are dressed like ordinary folk, and, with the exception that every set of trousers is about 3” too long, this was a great touch. There is no reason why the Dr. Peterson and Leila shouldn’t be drawn to one another, but there is no reason why they should be either.