Sunday, December 02, 2007

Guys & Dolls and Couples Therapy

When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky
You can bet that he's doing it for some doll.
When you spot a John waiting out in the rain
Chances are he's insane
as only a John can be for a Jane.

When you meet a gent paying all kinds of rent
For a flat that could flatten the Taj Mahal.
Call it sad, call it funny.
But it's better than even money
That the guy's only doing it for some doll.

Sure, it's hetero-centric-sexist, and yes, it's counter-gender liberation, too. But give that a pass for today, okay?

It’s not as if I go to Los Angeles every day, but the Un-city* has been my domestic destination of choice for the past few years. I don't go only to see family. The Un-city offers social services that are perhaps the very best in the nation for the treatment of sexual assault survivors. I study those.

Besides treating victims and survivors, the LACAAW (Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women), for one, provides enlightened prevention programming for youths of all ages.
It’s no accident that celebrities hold galas for the cause. David Schwimmer comes to mind as a huge donor to sexual assault services, but there are many others.

A different fund raiser dragged me away from the office and the 32 degree, overcast and grey Chicago landscape to a sunny west coast winter blast (Yeah, I got the cold weather. Tomorrow will be 70 in the shade, but I'll be back in Chicago.)

I came here for GUYS & DOLLS! And this is no ordinary production. The cast and crew are all female. If you’re familiar with the musical, then you know that the show is set on Broadway, circa 1940’s. A dozen gamblers, all men, are the object of a female-centric Salvation Army mission of reform.

The musical-comedy is romantic from the top. Miss Adelaide, who is a burlesque star/stripper, you'd never know which in this sanitized show, and it doesn't matter, adores Nathan Detroit who organizes a floating crap game in New York. They’re engaged for 14 years and she’s nagging him to marry her. They still adore one another, which makes a case for a very long engagement, I suppose.

Nathan has promised he’ll stop gambling, but that’s not going to happen. He’s very worried that Big Jule from Chicago is coming to town with wads of dough, and no place to lose it. The heat is on; Lieutenant Brannigan is on Nathan's heels, the game is on the run. Nathan needs money to pay for a new location. He needs money for that and bets Sky Masterson, the debonnaire sophisticate of the international gambling world, a thousand dollars that Sky can’t get Sarah Brown of the mission band to go to Havana with him for dinner.

Sky tries hard, and Sarah does her best to resist, but the mission will fold unless she finds a room full of sinners. A General of the Salvation Army is sorry but Sarah has to justify the cost of keeping the mission open (not unlike most rape advocacy programs in the U.S.) Sky says, Join me in Havana and I’ll fill the room with sinners, and he makes good on his promise. Of course the two fall in love, and it’s surely one of the most romantic stories in Broadway history.

Or in our case, on 241 S. Moreno Drive off Wilshire.

This women's production is a benefit for Aleinu Family Resource Center, a program of Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles that provides counseling, social skills groups, child safety education, crisis support, and parenting workshops.

If you get tired of me you can go there.

But back to the show.

Women playing men.

It’s the third year, the third show for the Jewish Women’s Repertory Company, a troupe of women who break away from day jobs and children for the chance to let loose on stage for charity. Because JWRC respects the Jewish laws of modesty, men aren’t in the show, don’t direct the show, and aren’t allowed to watch the show. It wouldn’t matter if any of the players had five first degree male relatives who had been listening to her practice since June. No dice. Even male (meaning Y chromosome) family members can’t walk in the door, can’t even listen from the lobby. I don't think.

Spouses, more than a little tired after more than three straight months of childcare during rehearsal, greet the actors with flowers AFTER the show.

So as I’m watching this amazing production (2 more to go, Dec 2 at 3:00 & 7:00, for more info go to http://www.jewish/Womens theater.com) and am kicking myself for not contributing an ad to the playbook. I’m thinking, THESE WOMEN ARE GREAT, and the DIRECTORS, Rachelle Freedman and Margy Horowitz are stupendous, as is the music, and the PRODUCERS, Margy Horowitz and Shani Rotkovitz, put together a perfectly wonderful show. The work is evident. I think to myself, I'm in New York.

The choreography, the sets, the way each player tipped his (her?) hat, every detail inspired me. Empath Daught had to tie me to my chair. I’m one of those people who jumpstart the clapping after solos at jazz clubs, too. You should pay me to be in an audience, seriously.

The production is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI) in New York. And let’s not forget credit to Frank Loesser for the music and lyrics, and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows for the book.

Of course I could post about gambling, here.

Or about how love changes people. Indeed, my sister-in-law who is a performing artist, you’ve seen her on shows like Desperate Housewives and Murphy Brown, and in a few movies, a tremendous comedic actress, and brilliant (that goes with the territory) corrected me when I said, There is no way that Sky and Nathan truly changed just because they ultimately succumbed to marriage. They're GAMBLERS.

S-I-L and other kibitzers listening in argued, "Doc, you’ve missed the point of the show. Of course they changed."

Sure they’ve changed, sure, which is why we love the American musical. We’ll watch GUYS & DOLLS for another forty years, whereas shows with violent themes become footnotes in the annals of entertainment history. (Just a footnote, there).

I think I told you that once FD and I wrote a musical about child abuse-- it was cute, actually, but another sister-in-law told me it would never fly. People like it happy, she said, and she’s probably right.

And we like it romantic if at all possible. It's romantic to think gamblers can change, and some of them do, I suppose. But romantic can be code for heart-break.

But let's get to the couples therapy stuff.

Therapists hear all kinds of stories, and couples therapists hear them, too, mostly about the hardship and pressures of life, the systemic effects of mental illness, the miscommunication, hatred, back-stabbing, plate-throwing, knife pitching, word-slamming, gut-wrenching issues of every day relating. But still. Some of us continue to be more than a little Polly Annish about love, and despite what I say about romance, and you shouldn't assume it WON'T carry the relationship.

If they’re coming in for therapy, I assume people still want to fix it. They want their significant others not only to love them, but to adore them. And who are we to argue? Why shouldn't that be?

Once someone asked me to look at my work critically (not necessarily scientifically), to choose the one variable, the one element of intervention that works best (for me) overall.

Please don’t think for a minute that relationship therapists with post-graduate training don’t juggle three dozen variables at all times (there’s you, your S-O, and your marriage/relationship, three patients, minimum, all with issues that could take a week or three years to resolve).

The variable, however, that probably gets people to reconsider keeping their relationship more often than any other is romance.

It isn’t easy, finding the romantic funny-bone in a couple that has lost its sense of humor. In most cases it’s best to not even try early until one of the partners can lovingly joke at the expense of another. ANY sense of that and you’re golden, by the way. If you see a single glimmer of affection, and they want to stay together (meaning it’s not a divorce therapy), then you can make it happen.

Even it you can’t see a reason they should stay together, if they want to stay together and you don’t think you can make it happen, well, you’d better darn well punt early to someone who can. You should be able to revive them from the straits of hopelessness if you're in this business.

I say that because in my practice most couples start therapy at about the time that both have come to a realization that not only is the thrill gone, but so much emotional history has floated under the bridge, so much resentfulness and ill-will has piled up between them, it’s like a huge wall, too thick, too high to break down or climb over. (NO! I won't block the metaphor. Sue me.)

The two are pretty sure they’ll be happier apart (at least one of them is). And yet, for whatever reason, they’re willing to take a stab at the depression and the despair, the hopelessness that has settled. They’re too tired to get a dust cloth. The therapist is basically maid service.

So we've got two people and they can’t laugh anymore. Their communication is either avoidance or argument (there's no such thing as no communication), and relationship therapy is all about communicating and arguing, or not, sometimes, problem-solving and fixing three broken vessels.

It’s not a romantic comedy. It’s not a broadway musical. And yet.

Many a couple has had to sit through The Unsinkable Molly Brown, has had to learn the lyrics to “I’ll Never Say No to You.” That's just the way it is in certain therapies.

And sure, I’ll recommend it whole heartedly: Guys & Dolls

Try these songs for starters:

"I’ll Know" (when my love comes along)

"A Bushel & a Peck"

"Guys & Dolls" (the one that starts out this post. . .You can bet that he’s doing it for some doll, some doll, some doll, some DOLLLLLLL!!!!!!

"I’ve Never Been in Love Before"

"Marry the Man Today" (and change his ways and change his ways and change
his WAYYYYS TOMORROW!
)

You can get tickets at the door. If you're female.

therapydoc

*I'm pretty sure it's The Atlantic that made that interesting stab, all the way from sea to shining sea.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

i adore Guys and Dolls...I love the singing and my friend Richard was in a production of it a couple of years ago....Although i cant help busting out with chorus of rocking the boat..get in the boat, sit down you are rocking the boat..the devil will drag you under by the lapel of your shiny coat sit down sit down sit down you are rocking the boat.

Anonymous said...

I'm still hung up on the 14-year engagement thing. How did she do it?

Jack's Shack said...

If you come to LA leave the cold weather at home. There is a reason the family left Chicago. ;)

Enjoy the trip.

therapydoc said...

Thanks for the support, Jack.

Anon, After the first two years, Adelaide wrote to her mother that they had married. By year 14 they had 5 imaginary kids and one on the way, which is why she really, really wanted to get married already.

Marj aka Thriver said...

Thanks, Doc, for letting us include this in the December edition of the BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE. This sounds like a wonderful fund-raiser and cause and I appreciate your insights regarding it.