Stage Review: ‘Couples Therapy’ Is a Comedy of the Sexes

COLUMBIANA, Ohio – “Couples Therapy” defies expectations.

It’s more uproarious than dry, and you might even learn something – or at least confirm what your gut has always told you.

A stage play presented as a relationship seminar, with the audience as the attendees, it has become a homegrown hit.

“Couples Therapy” premiered three years ago at The Youngstown Playhouse and has since been booked at theaters in more than a dozen cities in several states.

Written and directed by Jason Tarr of Poland, Ohio, the play stars John Cox and Brandy Johanntges as Drs. Alan and Julie Perkins. They play a married couple, each one a counselor, who are leading the seminar. 

Cox and Johanntges are the only two actors who have ever played the roles. It’s easy to imagine that Tarr wrote the show with those two in mind, but he completed it before he met the duo.

So far this year, “Couples Therapy” has played Columbus, Buffalo, Akron, Asheville, N.C., and cities in Florida and Massachusetts.

It made a homecoming of sorts Saturday when it was presented to a capacity crowd at the 400-seat Main Street Theater in Columbiana.

Because it purports to be a seminar led by doctors, you might expect the humor to be understated, mimicking the tone of a counseling session.

But from the start, it’s physical, often raunchy, and always fast paced and fun.

Cox and Johanntges have always had great stage chemistry, and it’s on full display here. They may be relationship counselors, but they are husband and wife first, and that colors every step of their instructional seminar.

Tarr, the playwright, is an experienced comedian, and he uses the standup approach as a template for his show.

The funny business comes at you fast and frequently. It can range from a slide show of self-help books with phony but hilarious titles, to a look or a gesture that says more than words.

Cox gleefully leans into the physical comedy with Johanntges as his subdued but razor-sharp foil. Cox’s Dr. Alan is always ready to go over the top, and Johanntges’ Dr. Julie is quick to cool him down.

The show plays with stereotypes, which makes perfect sense for seminar counselors who are trying to reach everyone in the room. You can’t be subtle when you’re looking for common ground among strangers.

The counselors expose the dynamics of every romantic relationship without couching it in psychobabble.

Their feisty interaction with each other drives home the theme of their “seminar,” which is that the male and female brain work in much different ways.

A screen is used in any number of ways to impart knowledge, with videos and graphics illustrating key takeaways.

But the whole thing is really about sex. And because Tarr incorporates science and a dash of common sense into the script, the “seminar attendees” come away with a fresh perspective on their significant other. After all, the best humor is always based on truth.

The funniest bits stem from saying out loud the personal things that everybody has experienced but never talks about. But Cox and Johanntges, and their trusty laser pointers, do more than just say it out loud.

The result is good-natured adult humor for a couple’s night out.

The jokes even go beyond the final bow. There’s a ruler printed along the side of the program, with no explanation. But once you get home, you’ll remember what it’s supposed to measure.

Kudos to Tarr for creating this evergreen crowd pleaser in such a way that it can be easily taken on the road and updated merely by changing the songs, book titles and other cultural touchpoints to take advantage of any trend.

The Columbiana show was the last one for several months. “Couples Therapy” will again hit the road in the fall for shows in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania before returning to the Mahoning Valley on Oct. 18 and 19 for shows at The Funny Farm comedy club in Niles.

Pictured at top: Brandy Johanntges and John Cox in a scene from “Couples Therapy.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.