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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Cast of Yale Repertory Theatre's production of Moliere's "A Doctor in Spite of Himself." Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Vulgar, irresistible ‘A Doctor In Spite of Himself’ at Yale Rep
by Kory Loucks
NEW HAVEN — Even before Moliere’s “A Doctor In Spite of Himself” at the Yale Repertory Theatre begins, it’s clear you’re in for an experience like no other.
As the song “Put the Lime in the Coconut” wafts through the air, the ushers and then even some irrepressible audience members start dancing to the music. The party is on.
The stage is bare, with a few instruments tucked into a nearby corner, and then a small puppet theatre is rolled into view by a very old man accompanied by a fluttering moth.
The Punch and Judy type puppets start to argue and hit each other when from the back of the puppet theater the two actors pop out and continue fighting.
Adapted by Steven Epp who plays Sganarelle and Christopher Bayes who directs, the play is about a woodcutter who is forced to pretend he is a doctor and cure a wealthy girl who stopped speaking.
It’s a silly plot, but the actors are spectacular, taking the broad Italian Commedia dell’Arte style of acting that was popular in Moliere’s 17th century and exploding it to excessive proportions that are crazy and wacky fun.
Sexual innuendoes run rampant in this kooky world, where Sganarelle the woodcutter is out “whacking his wood” in the forest when he is accosted by two men, looking like Lewis Carroll’s Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
The woodcutter’s wife Martine (a shrewish Justine Williams) told the two that Sganarelle is such a great “genius doctor” that he pretends he isn’t until he is beaten.
Liam Craig plays Lucas with a vacant vapid stare, while Jacob Ming Trent plays the other dunderhead, Valere.
During the course of this amazing evening, they all burst out in song, turning this play into a musical of sorts. When Trent sings, it’s all too brief. He also does a stint as Cupid, which confirms my belief in the comedy of costumes, by Costume Designer Kristin Fiebig.
Another fabulous costume is the one the rich father M. Robert wears with a huge front butt that Allen Gilmore exploits to the hilt. The naïve aristocrat M. Robert wants his daughter, Lucinde, to marry the rich man of his choosing but she is in love with less wealthy Leandre.
Robert says, “You can’t put hope in the bank,” while the wet nurse replies, “Happiness is worth more than money.”
Renata Friedman plays the silent Lucinde, who bays like a donkey, looking like an exaggerated Goth chick in a wheelchair.
Chivas Michael plays the vain poser, Leandre, with a ballet theatricality that is thoroughly delightful.
Julie Briskman plays the buxom wet nurse, Jacqueline, and practically steals the show when she switches from a Southern Belle to a Cockney chambermaid, and then to a New Jersey Mafioso within the same monologue. Stunning.
Williams also plays the diapered Perrin to Craig’s hick Thiabaut, who come to the genus doctor looking for medical help. They and many of the other characters wear various masks and false noses that add to their exaggerated natures.
Greg C. Powers and Robertson Witmer are the band members who give continuity and structure to the circus-like atmosphere, with music composed by music director Aaron Halva.
There are no lulls in this play, so that even when there is a scene change it’s filled with an entertainment in front of the old-fashioned footlights, with crisp lighting by Yi Zhao.
The larger-than-life French living room gives a surreal silliness to the show, with set design by Matt Saunders.
How many plays can incorporate Nyquil, ABBA, Rolling Stone, and David Hasselhoff with the Occupy Wall Street movement and get away with it? Just about anything goes in this wildly vulgar and wickedly irresistible comedy where laughter really is the best medicine.
At one point during the shenanigans Sganarelle looks at the audience and asks, “When is the play going to start?” Thankfully nothing like a normal play ever does in this satirical, remarkable adaptation of “A Doctor In Spite of Himself” that you simply must see.
4 stars
Theater: The Yale Repertory Theatre
Location: 1120 Chapel St., New Haven
Production: By Moliere. Adapted by Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp. Directed by Bayes. Composer and musical direction by Aaron Halva. Scenic design by Matt Saunders. Costume design by Kristin Fiebig. Lighting design by Yi Zhao. Sound design by Ken Goodwin. Production Dramaturg Benjamin Fainstein. Vocal Coach Walton Wilson. Stage Manager Brandon Curtis.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Show times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees as 2 p.m., through Dec. 17.
Tickets: $20 — $88. For tickets 203-432-1234 or visit their website at
Steven Epp ... Sganarelle
Justine Williams ... Martine, Perrin
Allen Gilmore ... M. Robert, Geronte
Liam Craig ... Lucas, Thibaut
Jacob Ming Trent ... Valere, Cherub
Chivas Michael ... Leandre, Old Man
Julie Briskman ... Jacqueline
Renata Friedman ... Lucinde, Puppeteer

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