Ends Dec. 17. Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St. (203) 432-1234, yalerep.org.
All we have for sure is pleasure," Jacqueline (Julie Briskman), a housemaid says to Sgnarelle (Steven Epp), a rather dim wood-cutter masquerading as a physician, a statement that might stand as the credo of Christopher Bayes and Steve Epp's freewheeling adaptation of Molière's A Doctor In Spite of Himself at the Yale Rep.
The show is all about giving the audience a good time, and just when you think it might be falling into the trap of too much or too little plot, a new gag comes along — a beau who looks like Little Richard, an ad lib about glimpsing James Franco down the space between the maid's mammaries, a jaunty song, an OWS reference, or the housemaid, having made her observation, proceding to give herself a little pleasure with the handle of her vacuum cleaner.
The comic references swarm like aggressive gnats on a hayride, compressing a history lesson's worth of stage comedy into a swiftly running 85 minutes. Bayes and Epp excel in keeping things moving and along the way offering riffs on the kinds of things Molière targets: incompetence, stupidity, cupidity, overbearing self-importance, and, of course, the Latin mumbo jumbo that those highly suspect educated classes like to spout.
The show begins with a Punch & Judy show and in some ways never leaves it — cleverly using a small stage on the side of an outhouse to suggest the "little box" so many of us look to for entertainment and as a replica of the full staging around it. The stage is set on a damaged proscenium that looks like the ruins of high-art aspirations in some provincial locale. This is a show that knows it's a show, and its one intention is to leave 'em laughing when they go.
It's all about the ensemble, and everyone is fully in the spirit of the thing: Liam Craig and Jacob Ming Trent as Lucas and Valère, a silly duo that looks like Laurel and Hardy; Craig is especially adept at poker-faced delivery; Justine Williams as Martine, Sgnarelle's meddlesome wife with a voice like Gladys Kravitch who, learning her husband is about to be hung, proclaims: "my husband, hung? Since when?" (rimshot); Allen Gilmore in a white fright wig and Ronald McDonald-style pantaloons, as the hysterical father whose mute daughter (her malady a protest against his choice of mate for her) sets off the chain of events; Renata Friedman as the surly Goth daughter; Chivas Michael as the preening Léandre with a voice of dripping syrup; Julie Briskman as the ribald Jacqueline who almost falls under the lusty spell of "Doctor" Sgnarelle. And who could blame her? Epp proves himself a comic master — of timing, of slowburn looks around the company and audience, of a voice that sounds like Sid Caesar crossed with Mel Blanc: his weepy ballad at the footlights had me in convulsions, an echo of dimly recalled Loony Tunes take-offs on forgotten vaudeville routines.
Mention must be made of multi-instrumentalists Greg C. Powers and Robertson Witmer, positioned onstage in a prosencium cavity and providing musical accompaniment and commentary as needed. The costumes, in their cartoon vividness, come from the fertile talents of Kristin Fiebig, and the scenic design, including a rising half moon that provides a rather poetic close, via the notable skills of Matt Saunders.
Bawdy, fun, and fast, A Doctor In Spite of Himself is the proverbial good time to be had by all.