Carrying emotional baggage from previous relationships, they meet. They fall in love. One of them wants to settle down, but the other is terrified of commitment.
A fairly typical scenario, even if the lovebirds happen to be homosexual males. While Clark Carlton's satirical portrait of the West Hollywood gay dating scene in "Self Help (or the Tower of Psychobabble)" at Highways will probably evoke enthusiastic empathy among its depicted population, it offers few new insights into romantic complications.
Nor into the foibles of pop psychology, the primary target of Carlton's barbs. As Tyler (a sympathetic Dean Howell) makes his odyssey through a series of cliche-ridden therapists to help him deal with his cliche-ridden relationships, he's beset by predictable--and, worse, highly repetitive--hypocrisy, exploitation, and drivel. Even his significant other (a frequently unconvincing Randy Brown) turns stereotypically phobic at the mention of the "L" word. Rodney Hargrove supplies a notably appealing supporting performance as Tyler's amiable confidant.
Michael Kearns' brisk staging sustains interest, but the rapid succession of short scenes isn't conducive to emotional engagement--too often, Carlton is guilty of the same glibness he castigates in psychobabble.
A prominent trend in the current profusion of gay-themed plays is the recasting of familiar stories in an exclusively homosexual universe (there isn't a single straight character in "Self Help"). It's a kind of wishful thinking understandable in any minority group striving for acceptance and self-definition, but when the topics have already been covered more effectively in other contexts, the appeal to a general audience is severely limited. "Self Help" achieves little more than self-assurance.
* "Self Help (or the Tower of Psychobabble)," Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Thursdays-Sundays, 8:30 p.m. Ends May 11. $18. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.