Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep with “A Doctor in Spite of Himself”─bawdy, silly, politically incorrect and not to be missed, through March 25, 2011

Is laughter the best cure?   It certainly helps!  Molière’s classic comedy, A Doctor in Spite of Himself, which opened at Berkeley Rep on February 16, offers an ingenious promenade of tawdry merry-making carried out by actors  and puppets that resemble them.  Adapted by comic actor extraordinaire Steven Epp and director Christopher Bayes, this farce maintains the structure and tempo of the 17th century original but delights with its modern innuendo and live music.

The show opens in the woods with an all too familiar marital argument—who’s the boss?   Woodcutter and lout, Sganarelle (Steven Epps), is beating his wife Martine (Justine Williams) and her ample bouncing breasts assert themselves in the bout as much she does.  A delightful Punch and Judy show takes place behind the actors, the puppets replicating what’s transpiring live.  Adding a rural touch, and enforcing the rapid-fire potty-mouth humor, the puppet show takes place in an outhouse.

Pained and pissed-off about taking a beating, Martine is devoted to pay-back.  Opportunity soon presents itself—when two servants (Liam Craig  and Jacob Ming-Trent) show up in search of doctor, she tells them that Sganarelle is a doctor but the only way to get him to admit to this high rank is to beat him silly.  After a thorough beating, Sganarelle is ready to admit to anything.  He is quite shocked to see how much respect he gets as doctor when he shows up at the local big-wig’s (Allen Gilmore) plush chateau to treat his daughter, Lucinde (Renata Friedman), a garish-goth girl who is FAKING illness.  Turns out, she’s mourning being separated from her lover (Chivas Michael), whom her wealthy father can’t stand.  Reversals are the order of the day in this fast-paced romp: the doctor is indistinguishable from the peasant and the healthy from the sick.   The riotously funny dialogue is so expertly and freshly delivered, that it sounds like improv.

While the dialogue is superb, so too is the music composed by Aaron Halva and played onstage with gusto by Greg C. Powers (trombone, tuba, ukulele) and Robertson Witmer (accordion, clarinet, drums).  The music runs the gamut from recognizable snippets of pop to opera to Broadway.  The man sitting next to me got so excited that he started conducting, humming, and swaying at all once and was promptly shut down with a swat of a program.   It’s that kind of show—expect fits of laughter everywhere and anywhere.

Run Time:  90 minutes, no intermission

Post-show discussions: Stick around for a lively 30-minute Q&A with the cast or other company members:  Thursday, March 1, 2012, Tuesday, March 6, 2012 and Friday, March 16, 2012

Free tastings:  Join Berkeley Rep for complimentary tastings!  Sample wine, beer, chocolate, champagne, vodka, organic produce or other delights before select Friday 8pm, Saturday 8pm and Sunday 7pm performances.

  • Friday, February 24: Dr. Kracker / 7pm
  • Saturday, February 25: Peterson Winery / 7pm
  • Sunday, February 26: Ecology Center / 6pm
  • Friday, March 2: Charbay Winery and Distillery / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 4: Green Barrel Wine Merchants / 6pm
  • Friday, March 9: Speakeasy Ales & Lagers / 7pm
  • Saturday, March 10: Stella Nonna Catering / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 11: Ecology Center / 6pm
  • Saturday, March 17: Donkey & Goat Winery / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 25: Ecology Center / 6pm

Details: A Doctor in Spite of Himself  runs through March 25, 2012 at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA.  Tickets: $14.50 to $73.  Call 510-647-2949 or visit .

February 29, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment