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A CurtainUp Review 

The Doctor In Spite of Himself

by Dolores Whiskeyman
The Protean Theatre Company sets as its lofty goal the preservation of "lost classics" for New York audiences. Its latest effort is The Doctor in Spite of Himself, a 300-year-old bit of fluff by Moliere that relates the improbable adventures of a woodcutter who is mistaken for a doctor. This ribald comedy fares quite well in the hands of this fiesty theatrical troupe, easily overcoming the pretensions of the adaptation. 

For some reason, contemporary adapters of classic works find themselves utterly compelled to inject contemporary references into the text -- as if they cannot trust the audience to follow the original. Director Owen Thompson, who adapted this piece, can't resist the urge either. He places American street lingo into the mouth of Moliere's worldly wise servant, and injects other modernisms into a story that is completely of its time. The jokes play; but Moliere's original jokes probably would have played just as well. No matter. We still have a very good time. 

This is a high energy piece of great silliness, ably carried off by a cast more than eager to zoom over the top. At the center is rubber-faced Keith Michel, hilarious in the role of the lecherous, drunken woodcutter, Sganarelle. Lisa Ann Goldsmith is an even match as his scheming wife Martine, who passes him off as a doctor to avenge the beating he has given her. To Thompson's credit, there's no effort to coat this story with a P.C. veneer. Sganarelle tans Martine's hide, and the slow-motion sequence in which he does it is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. It's also the kick-off to the rest of the story. 

To get revenge, Martine persuades a passing butler that Sganarelle is a famous doctor. The butler is overjoyed -- his mission is to find someone who can cure his master's daughter of muteness. Sganarelle resists at first, but a firm thrashing by the butler and his companion persuade him that posing as a doctor is better than getting slammed on the head with a hammer. 

Immediately, the butler and servant dispatch Sganarelle to the home of their master, where the woodcutter finds himself mesmerized by the sight of Jacqueline, the "wet nurse" to the mute girl, Lucinde. As Jacqueline, Tristana Gonzalez is a stand-out. Her wide-eyed horror at Sganarelle's groping barely masks her fascination with the possibilities his lust presents. Watching her make up her mind is riotous good fun. In between, Sganarelle spouts dubious medical jargon, makes odd prescriptions and conspires with Lucinde's lover to help her escape the marriage her father has deemed more appropriate. Of course, that forced marriage is at the heart of her troubles; she refuses to speak in the hope that muteness will render her unacceptable as a bride. Turns out, she is right. 

Protean Theatre Company is obviously a new company with a limited budget, yet none of that gets in the way of the production. In fact, it seems to exploit its meager resources to underscore the comedy. The minimal set by Rychard Curtiss, consisting of a series of card-board cut-out trees, reinforces the forced nature of the bawdy proceedings and reminds us that we are, in effect, watching a cartoon, albeit one written for the 17th Century French court. 

Clearly, this is one of Moliere's lesser works, and if it is not often produced, it is because there are better plays to choose from. The satire is contrived, the resolution forced. On the whole, it has about as much social relevance as a Three Stooges short. Then again, a lot of people like the Three Stooges. Come to think of it, social relevance is overrated. 
 
THE DOCTOR IN SPITE OF HIMSELF
by Moliere, translated by Guy Laperriere 
Adapted and directed by Owen Thompson 
with Keith Michel, Lisa Ann Goldsmith, Matt Cooney, John Grace, Gregory Couba, David H. Hamilton, Tristana Gonzalez, Cynthia Enfield, Brian Voelcker
Sets and Lights by Rychard Curtiss 
Costumes by Jennifer Moeller 
A production of The Protean Theatre Company
Protean website: www.proteantheatre.com
Philip Bosakowski Theatre, 354 W. 45th St.(8/9 Avs.) 
(212) 290 - 1595
Opened Dec. 18, 2000; closing Dec.30, 2000
Thurs. - Sat.@8, Sat.@2; $15
Reviewed 12/19/00 by Dolores Whiskeyman, based on a 12/14/00 performance.  
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ęCopyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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