Review: When positive thinking goes awry

“The Group” is one of those parodies that's so good, you almost don't know it's a fake.

The hilarious takeoff of myriad self-actualization programs is presented by Dodeska Performance Ensemble in an upstairs room at South of Market's Climate Theater.

Upon entering the theater, patrons are invited to have as much coffee as they like and fill out a name tag that reads, “Hello, my sickness is…” Handy stickers listing various maladies — from cancer to HIV to loneliness and weight issues — are provided.

Next comes a clip board with a funny intake form. One of the exercises reads: “Complete this sentence: My parents are (circle one) UNAPPRECIATIVE, DEAD.”

Audience members are then seated on folding chairs in a so-called “power circle.” Soon the charismatic Group Leader bounds out, wearing a white button-down shirt and dress slacks. He begins to spout self-empowerment jargon in smooth yet commanding tones: “Follow my voice as I take you on tonight's journey to the center of yourself.”

Participants don headphones, through which the Leader's intonations are filtered, accompanied by an audio design featuring Alex Duffy's perfect original NewAge-y music (quiet Eastern tones and atmospheric flutes) and appropriate sound effects.

Ryan Eggensperger plays the Leader to eerie perfection, performing a spot-on script by Robert Quillen Camp, who personally must have been exposed to “The Secret” to write lines this good: “Love is the super glue” or “Enlightened consciousness starts in the alpha quadrant.”

The show admittedly has an intimate nature, and the 15-20 folks in the circle are often asked to 1) close their eyes, or 2) look at the people around them. Happily, the closeness of the experience doesn't make for embarrassing moments for the audience, and no one is singled out.

However, the confined setting worked to inhibit reaction on my part. I was busting up when the Leader asked us to order deep-fried insights at the café we were imagining, and I felt myself stifling giggles so as not to stand out.

In the end, the show provides excellent therapy. As those who aren't swayed by expensive self-help seminars know, laughter is indeed the best medicine.

IF YOU GO

The Group

Presented by Dodeska Performance Ensemble

Where: Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8 and 10:30 p.m. most Fridays-Saturdays; closes June 14

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 706-9535 or www.dodeska.com

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