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Valley trio takes ‘Couples Therapy’ on the road

A show that was born in Youngstown is hitting the road.

“Couples Therapy,” which was written by Jason Tarr and stars John Cox and Brandy Johanntges, made its debut at Youngstown Playhouse with performances in 2022 and 2023.

Now the trio has 14 cities booked for 2024, including a show Saturday at E.J. Thomas Hall and a May 11 date at Vagabond Theater in Columbiana.

“It’s been so much fun,” Cox said. “We were in Buffalo for two shows over the weekend. Friday was almost sold out, a 500-seat house. It’s different crowds in different places with unknown actors, and they’re still getting the same kick out of it.

“My son and his girlfriend came to the Columbus show (on Feb. 10) — they’re 19 — and they say everyone around them was laughing at different things. They did that in Youngstown, so we’re hopeful. This is my children’s college fund.”

Cox and Johanntges play married therapists who are conducting a relationship seminar. They were high school sweethearts and both children of divorced parents who reconnected years later at a medical conference.

Tarr, who lives in Poland and spent years as a standup comedian, developed the show out of the relationship material in his standup act. “Couples Therapy” is largely scripted with some filmed bits, but it also includes some improvised audience interaction.

The idea to tour “Couples Therapy” was hatched during last year’s performance. Cox’s cousin and his wife saw the show, and they were involved with renovating and reopening a theater in Marysville. Cox offered to bring the show there, and it did well.

“It’s easy to travel the show,” Cox said. “There are very few props, things every theater would have. We could package it and travel it. Jason put on his old standup hat and started calling theaters.”

Cox said they started researching venues that booked traveling shows like “Menopause the Musical” and “Dixie’s Tupperware Party,” and Tarr drew upon his experience working with theater operators as a comedian to secure venues. In some cases, they are doing a 50 / 50 split with the venues, Cox said. In other markets, they rented the theater, and their success or failure will depend on how many tickets they can sell.

While it was great doing the show at the Playhouse where they knew many of the folks in the audience, it’s even more special winning over crowds that don’t know them personally … and getting paid to do it.

“It’s satisfying, just as performers,” Cox said. “Brandy was saying, ‘We did this for nothing, and now people are giving us a check.’ The idea that, holy crap, we’re more adept at doing something like this than we thought we were, and the fact that we can hold our own.

“We take that Youngstown pride with us. It’s a lot more satisfying for me that it’s out of town and we’re having the same response, still getting ovations and still getting people cracking up and waiting for us after the show to tell us stories and laugh with us.”

Cox said he’s wanted to be a standup comedian since he was a child, and his father took him to see David Brenner live when he was 8 years old. He called traveling around in a laugh-filled show “a dream come true.”

However, he and Johanntges also have jobs, and the current tour is booked on weekends with plenty of gaps to keep it from becoming too taxing.

The success they’ve enjoyed so far already has the trio thinking about 2025. Three shows already are booked, including a return to Youngstown.

“If we keep it to 12, 15 weekends max, it doesn’t kill us,” Cox said. “It’s fun to do, just a blast. Hanging out with friends, acting like a fool, people laugh at you and at the end you get a check? Are you kidding? I’ll get in line to do this all day long.”

If you

go …

WHAT: “Couples Therapy”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: E.J. Thomas Hall, 198 Hill St., Akron

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $25 to $45 and are available through Ticketmaster. For more information, go to couplestherapyplay.com

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