A lowly putz named Sganarelle (Charles Fathy) gives his wife, Martine (Clara Bellar), a good, old-fashioned ass-kicking with a somewhat blunt object, and she retaliates by putting out the false word that her husband is a famous physician who requires ridiculously violent beatings from strangers to remind and convince him of his world-class status in the medical profession. This absurd setup leads to comical batterings of the "doctor" mixed with wacky subplots involving wacky characters (Raquel Brussolo, Brad Schmidt, and the wonderful Steven Houska) mixed with even more episodes of cartoonish physical violence—less like a Tarantino/Scorsese film and more like when the Roadrunner used to watch anvils fall on Wile E. Coyote's head.
Director Gulu Monteiro picks up where Molière left off, sweeping the madness of this one-act farce along with a firm commitment to the silly vibe of its short, strange trip. In spite of amateur moments reminiscent of a Groundlings student workshop and occasional bouts of performers getting too silly for their own good, the cast nicely interprets Molière's original piece, updating its lunacy for contemporary-audience enjoyment.
Standing out are costume designer Swinda Reichelt's loud and crazy costumes, which inject another shot of zaniness into this production, adding to the playful, good-time feel without overshadowing the central theme that the practice of medicine needs, well, more practice.
With health-care issues dominating today's headlines and Halloween right around the corner, "The Doctor Despite Himself," trading structured plot for loose slapstick, offers a unique and original alternative to a typical night of theater "despite" its occasional shortcomings.
Presented by and at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. Oct. 2–Nov. 8. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. (310) 823-0710. www.electriclodge.org.