A Surefire Cure for What Ails You -- A Doctor in Spite of Himself at Yale Rep
By Amy J. Barry
Maybe we just needed a really good laugh along with the rest of the audience at the performance we attended of A Doctor in Spite of Himself at Yale Rep. But the lesser known, one-act Moliere comedy of manners, adapted with no-holds-barred artistic license and boundless buffoonery by Christopher Bayes (who also directed it) and Stephen Epp (who also stars in it) had us holding our stomachs in endorphin-producing spasms and wiping our eyes with tears of joy from start to finish.
Moliere, the French master of comedic theater, wrote this play in the mid-17th century (wow) as a spoof of the medical fraternity, and it wasn't hard to embellish and contemporize what’s still going strong three centuries later.
The plot entails the cagey and calculating Martine (Justine Williams) persuading two gullible men in black hats, played by Jacob Ming Trent and Liam Craig that her dumb as the wood he cuts woodcutter husband Sganarelle (Steven Epp) is actually a doctor. They beat him with his own sticks into agreeing that he is a physician who can cure Lucinde (Renata Friedman), the mute daughter of the rich and ridiculous Geronte (Allen Gilmore). But Lucinde is only feigning dumbness caused by her father's refusal to let her marry Léandre (Chivas Michael), her sweet but destitute lover.
The big joke is how quickly Sganarelle adapts to his role as a doctor, albeit quack, speaking in a mumbo-jumbo of Latin and Pig Latin whenever his cures are questioned. Epp is the (crazy) glue of the show as the Pee-Wee Herman-esque character.
Every line contains a double -- or triple entendre, a metaphor or modern reference, all perfectly punctuated by absurd sound effects on horns, percussion, etc., by the talented on-stage musicians Greg Powers and Robertson Witmer, who also embellish each song byte into which the cast busts spontaneously forth—from hip-hop to Italian opera.
How this terrific cast keeps up the requisite frenetic slapstick pace night after night is truly amazing.
The relationship between doctors and insurance companies is marvelously mocked (kudos to Aaron Halva, composer and music director) when the cast comes out in bloody white lab coats singing:
Open up wide, now squeeze it, now pucker
Now inhale and cough, its only cash sucker
Your insurance insurance, insurance won't cover
All the fun that you missed all the pain you discover
When you look at my bill, you'll never, ever ever recover!
Kristen Fiebig steals the show with her slapstick costumes that are so ridiculously funny that Allen Gilmore, for example, only needs to walk on stage in giant red pantaloons, falling over his own enormous stomach, and before he even utters a line, the audience is collapsing in fits of laughter.
Matt Saunders scenic design is full of whimsy and surprises from the Punch and Judy puppet show replicating the characters and action on stage…to the opulent parlor of Valere and Lucinde…to the moon-rising final scene, made even more magical by Yi Zhao's dreamy lighting.
Some of the shtick is just downright silly and vulgar -- and parents beware, this production is fraught with sexual innuendo and plenty of F-words, so you may think twice about bringing young children.
All's well that ends well in the final, uplifting moonlit scene, as the cast comes together and sings the heartwarming:
When the world was all brand new
So were each and every one of you
You learned to fly and you flew
As we grow old, we grow quieter, I'm told
So remember to laugh
because laughter is the best medicine
A nice reminder for us all.
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers and online Zip06.com, Dec. 15, 2011.