Reviewed by Glenda Frank
Presented by The Protean Theatre Company at the Philip Bosakowski Theatre, 354 W. 45th St., NYC., Dec. 14-30.
"The Doctor in Spite of Himself," Molière's spirited romp through the world of domestic woes, has a wise friend in director-adapter Owen Thompson. This production is laugh-aloud funny and more. It's a clever postmodern burlesque of communication gaps—not to mention medical chicanery.
The play opens at a gallop as we catch Sganarelle, the rubber-limbed woodcutter, and his equally lithe wife in mid-squabble. Keith Michel (who has probably been studying Bill Irwin) and Lisa Ann Goldsmith are beautifully matched clowns—from their broad and subtle comedy routines to the freeze frames and dumb-show imbroglio. To punish him for beating her, she informs two strangers that if he is thrashed soundly he will confess to being a brilliant physician who can cure their mistress.
Sganarelle, the clever servant and centerpiece of the comedy, is joined by a host of sexy, dumb, and pretentious servants—all speaking a unique idiom. Geronte, the boss, (David H. Hamilton) may practice plain English, but one servant (Gregory Couba) is all phat rap, another pure Latina via Fran Dresher (Tristana Gonzalez), and the third (John Grace) is blond, prolix, and 17th century. They have to translate to understand each other. At one point, a dictionary is consulted.
The medical puzzle is the daughter's muteness, initiated when Daddy announced she (Cynthia Enfield) was to wed an old man and never, never the handsome Leandre (Brian Voelcker). Silence becomes her; she is a termagant. The theme of miscommunication is linked to Sganarelle's discovery of powers he never knew he had, and he decides medicine is better than woodcutting. He was, after all, the best of all the physicians consulted.
Molière was notorious for insulting the audience and needing Louis XIV to ride to the rescue. Thompson's stereotypes, which skirt the offensive, would do "Mad TV" proud. The actors can't quite hold them, but why quibble when the concept is so inventive. Even the scenery by Rych Curtiss is a caricature—of French flat wings (no grooves). I think if Molière's ghost is standing in the back of this tiny Off-Off Broadway theatre, he's probably applauding.
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