SELF HELP, OR THE TOWER OF PSYCHOBABBLE, Bailiwick Repertory. LA playwright Clark Carlton's rather overwritten dating comedy--the latest installment in Bailiwick's gay-themed "Pride '99" series--indulges in a lot of analytical excesses for a play that purports to ridicule our dependence on shrinkspeak and talk therapy. A sensible 35-year-old gay screenwriter cursed with half-baked relationships cures himself of needing a cure, yet the play is burdened by references to codependency, narcissism, passive aggression, fear of intimacy, mother complexes, a sense of victimization, lack of boundaries, identity insecurity, and other pathologies. Methinks the play doth diagnose too much. And unlike Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy, which also mocks dependence on messed-up analysts, too few laughs leaven this long lecture.
Still, for gay couples who feel threatened by bad bonding, Self Help teems with advice. Everyone else can savor the occasionally dishy dialogue and tart performances in Jesus Perez's broad, bubbly staging. Tyler Michael makes the screenwriter confused but sturdy, in contrast to the needy, catty, and empty souls around him. As his troubled boyfriends, Marc Foster and Johnny Knight dutifully stake out their respective psychological territories, infidelity and fear of feeling. Quickly changing garb, Anthony Micheletti is at first a delight as the "clack boy" who turns every scene into a Hollywood take, though the delight diminishes. These gay relationship plays often seem familiar or interchangeable, but Bailiwick's attractive cast and workmanlike acting distract us from that fact. --Lawrence Bommer