Opening Nights: A Doctor in Spite of Himself

Lewdness, scatology, and pop music at Intiman.

Director Chris Bayes' take on Molière's carnivalesque satire of the medical profession is a low-stakes fusion of commedia dell'arte and vaudeville—dry-rubbed with lewdness, scatology, pop music, and political incorrectness. If you feel like a nut, this one will satisfy. Molière's 17th-century original is short, and usually performed with another play, but Intiman's adaptation (by Bayes and Steven Epp) yeasts up the petite plot to nearly 80 minutes with modern diversionary breakouts. Some of the logistical stunts recall those Bayes used for The 39 Steps at the Rep: e.g., actors piling into a puppet booth, where their characters are momentarily depicted by wooden puppets, then emerging from the other side—ta-da! A Doctor is both circus (performed in Narelle Sissons' deep, rounded, vintage red-orange sets) and freak show (dressed in Elizabeth Caitlin Ward's mishmash of costumes). As the aggrieved wife who tricks some strangers into beating her husband, Ashley Marshall galumphs about in yellow rubber boots, green rubber gloves, an Afro, and pasties on her '50s-style housedress. Renata Friedman, playing a patient in need of a cure for muteness, has frightful forelocks protruding like 10-speed handlebars. And a pudgy castrato angel (Don Darryl Rivera) appears in a gold lamé bodice, tutu skirt, and wings. The live onstage music from Greg C. Powers and Rob Witmer is suitably broad and schticky, with sound effects, rimshots, and thrifty covers of "Fever" and "Dancing Queen." While this bumptiously enjoyable production bumbles into many funny moments, it skims over the traditional commedia dell'arte inversions of status. Perhaps because Bayes is going for a modern feel, the characters all seem more or less like peers; and without such social hierarchies, the comic downfalls of the rich and powerful aren't quite so satisfying. But that's a minor cavil. The collegial atmosphere and blooper-friendly camaraderie among the cast make this a fun night for everyone concerned.

 
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