The premature death of a dream

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What you get out of Poor Dog Group's show "Group Therapy" depends on what you bring to it.

It's a lot like therapy itself - which, in one way, is what the show is.

"Group Therapy" is a play about a 10-year old Los Angeles ensemble theater company that entered group therapy with an actual therapist. The show, in part, is drawn from transcripts of those therapy sessions. It's the story of a posse of 18 year-olds who met in art school, formed a company, made art, became a sort of family and then . . . life happened.

Now, you could see this as a bunch of 30 year-olds navel gazing and complaining that life and art is tougher than they thought and things might not work out.

If that's your bent - this isn't the show for you.

But if you've ever been with a group of people who you thought would be your soulmates forever - be it a theater company or a family or even your buds from college - and things didn't quite turn out the way you dreamed ..then "Group Therapy" will be a profound experience.

This is a play built as much on what an audience infers as what an audience actually hears onstage.

As the play opens, you see a circle of 7 chairs. Overhead a honeycomb pattern of film lights gives the space a soft even glow. Surrounding the chairs is a dolly track with a table mounted video camera that circles the action like the second-hand of a clock marking time. On either side of the stage large flat screen monitors show the images from that camera.

In the chairs sit the members of the company. They begin taking turns with a sort of short emotional check-in. They each speak until a gentle buzzer sounds, cutting them off and signalling it's time for the next person. Then they take out a transcript of their actual group therapy sessions and begin to read. This section is different every night depending on which part of their script they choose. It's suggestive, painful, at times emotionally raw.

You begin to imagine the backstory that led to this pain, these bonds, these betrayals.

You hear them struggle with self-image, with money, with relationships...with life.

It's a bit like being a voyeur to a momentous transition in the lives of others. Like watching a couple after they've decided to finally break up. Or sitting with a family after a funeral - not for the moments of devastating tears and sadness but after that in the moments when the air is still and the ghost of what had been there is still present. It's a world where a silent glance speaks a world of meaning.

But it's meaning you have to participate in. Poor Dog Group is only providing you hints, they won't give you the whole map. But there's a deep journey if you'll sit with them.

For me, it was profound and deeply sad. I hope I didn't just witness the funeral rite for a promising Los Angeles company.

"Group Therapy" played at UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance last weekend.

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.