|Steven Epp and Justine Williams in A Doctor in Spite of Himself.|
© 2011 Carol Rosegg
By Lauren Yarger
Steven Epp and Christopher Bayes are definitely the go-to guys if you want 21st-century audiences laughing at centuries-old plays. Epp stars and Bayes directs in the pair's adaptation of Moliere's A Doctor in Spite of Himself, co-produced at Yale Rep with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and they prove that laughter definitely is the best medicine.
Epp and Bayles collaborated last season on their critically acclaimed presentation of Truffaldino's The Servant of Two Masters at Yale Rep. Epp starred, Bayes directed. Both had worked with Tony-Award-winning Theatre de la Lune.
Epp plays woodcutter Sganarelle, forced to assume the identity of a doctor when his wife, Martine (Justine Williams), orchestrates a plan to get back at him for his bad hehavior (the two begin as punch-and-judy puppets in a small theater on stage and cleverly come to life and even step back into the small box with some clever staging by Matt Saunders). She convinces Valere (Jacob Ming Trent) and Lucas (Liam Craig, who also was in Two Masters) that her husband is a miracle-curing doctor who can provide a remedy for their master's daughter, Lucinde (Renata Friedman, who also serves as puppeteer).
Valere and Lucas, coerce Sganarelle to accompany them to the household of their master, Geronte (Allen Gilmore, also a Two Masters alumni), where Lucas' amply endowed wife, Jacqueline (Julie Brisman), serves as wet nurse and soon arouses the woodcutter's desire to "play doctor." He endeavors to cure Lucinde, who has been rendered mute after her father refuses his permission for her love, Leander (Chivas Michael), to court her.
Note: if you happen to have taken a swig of bottled water, you might ant to be sure to swallow it before Lucinde makes her appearance. She's one icky sick girl, frighteningly wild-haired and boot strapped. If you haven't swallowed, you'll spit the water out when you guffaw. Costume designer Kristin Fiebig provides the look as well as a number of bright, crazy-colored costumes that add to the production's humor.
The script, which starts with ushers dancing up and down the aisles, is full of zany modern references to movies, Broadway, TV commercials, pop music and politics. Moliere could only have dreamed that his comedy about the 17th -century medical practice would receive so man laughs in 2011. Briskman is a hoot and in one scene changes persona several times while recounting the progress of Lucinde's treatment. Even a siren passing by the theater got a laugh when Epp ad-libbed that the comedy police were coming to get them. Everyone in the audience smiles all the way through the brisk 90-minute presentation.
If the humor isn't enough to entertain, the cast sings up a storm as well. Aaron Halva composes and music directs a two-man band (Greg C. Powers; Robertson Witmer) who lend accompaniment and sound effects on a myriad of instruments just right of the action on stage. Trent adds some stylish and funny panache to some of the vocal arrangements.
It's tickle-your-funny-bone theater at it's best and it runs through Saturday at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St, at York Street, New Haven. Tickets range from $28 to $88 and are available at the box office, at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. An audio transcribed performance is available 2 pm Saturday.