How generous. With its latest production, 2nd Story Theatre is giving us a hilarious double feature. And a double dose of schadenfreude: both a doctor and a lawyer, each a paragon of discredit to their profession, get raked over the coals. Plus it's patriotic: what's more American than making fun of the French?
DELIGHTFULLY ADDLED Tom Roberts and Mr. Cookiemittens in 2nd Story’s The Suitors.
Molière's The Doctor In Spite of Himself and Jean Racine's less frequently seen The Suitors are running through December 18. The comedies premiered within a couple of years of each other, in the 1660s. Note that they're in the Bristol County Courthouse, as befits the latter play, instead of their Warren digs.
In The Doctor In Spite of Himself, Molière had the good sense to not lambaste a real doctor, which would have been like preaching that Satan was a bad guy. No, he presents an ordinary man, a clever woodcutter, who pretends to be a physician, bluffing his way out of blunders and misdiagnoses. His patients are what get made fun of — as well as their gullible faith in 17th-century medicine.
Sganarelle (Jim Sullivan) changes careers when his wife Martine (Liz Hallenbeck) seeks revenge for his booting her about. Valet Valere (Jeff Church) and servant Lucas (F. William Oakes), sent by a wealthy bourgeois gentleman, Géronte (Tom O'Donnell), are searching for a doctor. Martine convinces them that her husband revived a woman six hours after she was proclaimed dead and so well repaired a boy who fell off a tower that he skipped away to play marbles. But he's eccentric, she says, so he might have to be thrashed about a bit until he admits who he is. They comply with gusto.
When Sganarelle realizes that there could be good money in this, he rubs his bruises and eagerly sets forth. He may get wrong on which side is the heart and which the liver, and his Latin may be medically suspect ("Veni, vidi, vici," "E pluribus unum"), but he loves the fact that doctors get paid whether they succeed or fail.
Standard conflicts ensue. Géronte wants his lovely daughter Lucinde (Erin Olson) to marry a wealthy man rather than poor Leandre (Dillon Medina), whom she loves, but eventually that's solved in a finger snap when Leandre comes into money. Also miraculously cured by the "doctor" is her inability to speak more than nonsense sounds, her trick for putting off other prospective suitors.
2nd Story packs a lot into 37 delirious minutes. All in all it's a giddy exercise that won't grow out of date while charlatans are abundant, credulous victims remain, and audiences exist to appreciate their interplay.
Jean Racine's The Suitors is the only comedy by the French dramatist who is known and appreciated for his tragedies. Since he was a master of the 12-syllable alexandrine verse in which his plays were written, translating them has been a devil of a job. But poet Richard Wilbur was up the task — for three Racine plays, actually — as he was for no less than 10 plays by Molière.
This is no trifle that Racine tossed off to prove he could do it. It's a well-constructed foray into farce that doesn't drop a beat in this production while delivering some hilarious set pieces.