"A Doctor in Spite of Himself" -- Yale Repertory Theatre
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
This musical, based on a Moliere play was adapted by director, Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp -- the same team that brought the highly successful “Servant of Two Masters” to Yale Rep in 2010. Epp plays the hen-picked woodsman, Sganarelle, who is forced to impersonate a doctor as a result of a dispute with his wife, Martine (Justine Williams). At the direction of revengeful Martine, Valere (Jacob Trent) and Lucas (Liam Craig) find Sganarelle and drag him to their master, Geronte (Alen Gilmore) with the hopes that he can cure his daughter, Jacqueline (Julie Briskman). Sganarelle realizes that his patient’s sickness is being caused by her father’s refusal to let her marry the poor Leandre (Chivas Michael) and after some twists and turns, the good doctor makes everything right.
In order to set the mood for comedy, the theatre is strung with colored lights and the show begins with the ushers dancing in the aisle a la TV’s Ellen DeGeneres’ style. On stage, an imaginative introduction includes a slapping, “Punch and Judy” puppet show that mimics the live actors antics. Thus, by presenting the origins of “comedia dell’arte” and the classic characters that went before, the audience is led through the continued development of comedy and what makes us still laugh to this day. The same shtick, the ridiculing of fools of society, unexpected falls, the bawdy references to sex and bodily functions haven’t changed very much. In fact, satire about medical doctors during Moliere’s time was exactly the same then as it is now. Epp, a natural clown, has exceptional body language and talent of tongue to grab trigger words in almost every sentence and turn them into rapid-fire jokes.
However, some people’s tastes do change with time. After a while, the numerous, sexual innuendos, the constant jumping up and down of huge, hanging breasts and the smelling of underwear were not funny anymore, in fact, it deteriorated to elementary school-level.
Following an overlong period of pure nonsense, one character finally asks, “…when are we going to start the show?” And some of us are still wondering. While a crowd of students, seated in the rear of the theater became hilarious when they recognized musical themes (played by musicians Greg Powers and Robertson Witmer), also, famous personalities and current events, others were wondering if anything that had to do with Moliere’s play was purely co-incidental.
There must be a balance between clever satire and meaningless, slapstick silliness. When you find that balance, you have Moliere.
Plays through Dec. 17