Considered one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature, and the most popular playwright of his day, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his stage name of Moliere, left behind an enduring body of work serving as a road map for playwrights on how to write scathing, but hilariously funny comments on social mores.
Moliere was strongly influenced by the Italian Commedia dell’ Arte style of theatre which created a group of “stock” characters such as the “rebel,” the “libertine,” “the miser,” the “trickster,” the “hypochondriac,” and the silly “cuckolds,” most of whom have roles in his dozen satirical plays. Under the auspices of the royal court, Moliere operated with immunity from attacks by the church and ironically died in 1673 during the production of his final play, The Imaginary Invalid.
In keeping with this stylized form of theatre, gifted director Gulu Monteiro, with his most talented Impanema Theater Troupe, put together a delightful production of The Doctor Despite Himself. The world premiere of the director’s slightly modern adaptation, is a hilarious romp about a lowly woodcutter named Sganarelle, gorgeously played by Charles Fathy, who has a propensity for occasionally beating his wife Martine, played with great gusto by Clara Bellar. After yet another cartoonish beating, Martine decides to get even and convinces two strangers in search of a doctor looking for a cure for the mute daughter of a wealthy gentleman, that her husband is a famous physician. She cautions them that he will deny being a doctor, but if they give him a good beating, he will confess. So, the fun and games of deceit begin.
Performed on a bare stage, no set is needed, as the amazing costumes designed by Swinda Reichelt fill the stage with brightly colored, outlandish clown, jester, or buffoon styled clothing, which are almost characters unto themselves. Special kudos to Reichelt for her imagination and creativity.
Monteiro’s adaptation has stayed true to Moliere’s play, combining some of the dialogue with modern references to current pharmaceuticals and the long list of disgusting side effects as seen on television. In one compelling scene, a couple is seeking Sganarelle’s help, but he keeps asking for more and more money before giving them a bogus cure. Finally, the couple winds up giving him everything they own, including the shirts off their backs, literally.
The rest of this well trained ensemble, include Raquel Brussolo who plays the sexy nursemaid. Her costume reflects her “work” as the front consists of two oversized breasts with huge protruding nipples. Brussolo can give a lesson in the use of a prop, as the handling of her mop is quite inventive and very amusing. Other members of the cast include Steven Houska who plays three characters, and Brad Schmidt who also plays three characters, all of whom are distinctly developed.
This production is a family play and although they might not get the social commentary aspects of the story, the slapstick element will delight children who will enjoy this romp as much as adults.
The Doctor Despite Himself
1416 Electric Ave.
Venice, CA 90191 (onsite parking)
Runs Fri.-Sun. through November 9, 2009