The Protean Theatre has established a fine reputation for giving lost or lesser-known classics professional New York productions. Blessed with an exceptional ensemble, some of the best scenic artists in town, and a great space, their ill-conceived new production of Molière's comic masterpiece was disheartening. Molière's brilliantly scathing send-up of the hypocrisies of the medical profession was reduced to a series of obscene, rather than titillating, innuendo, blatant racial stereotypes, and casual treatment of spousal violence. The talented performers managed to transcend Thompson's off-the-mark adaptation and unsubtle directing.
Sganarelle is a drunken woodcutter (actually a "faggot binder"- someone who ties the sticks together) who brutally beats and verbally abuses his wife, Martine. When he is mistaken for a famous doctor and forced against his will into the employ of the wealthy Geronte, whose daughter, Lucinde, has lost her voice, comic complications ensue. Lucinde is depressed because Geronte has forbidden her to marry her beloved Léandre, who is poor. Sganarelle is as abusive to Lucinde and other members of the household as he is to Martine but manages to convince his employer that his unconventional remedies have merit. When Lucinde and Léandre finally are reunited and her voice returns, Sganarelle manages to escape relatively unscathed.
Keith Michel's Sganarelle could have been a comic tour-de-force but was reduced to playing nonstop slapstick routines, most of which consisted of falling down, leering, and pawing one of the actresses. Lisa Ann Goldsmith's Martine fared the best, managing to find humor and pathos in her beleagured character. David H. Hamilton's dignified, gentle Geronte was a pleasure, as was Matt Cooney's fresh-faced, ardent Léandre. Cynthia Enfield's beautifully expressive face was worth a thousand words as the mostly mute Lucinde.
The talented supporting cast were relegated to crude stereotypes, particularly the appealing Gregory Couba, whose Lucas was a treasure trove of every black stereotype talented actors like him have had to endure throughout time. Lovely Tristana Gonzalez , who played Lucas's Puerto Rican wife, Jacqueline, was subjected to having her breasts grabbed and pinched, and was otherwise given little to do than imitate Carmen Miranda minus the fruit. John Grace's powdered and painted Valère was delightful, and Thompson was amusing in the small role of M. Robert, Sganarelle's neighbor.
The real star of this show was the gorgeous, boldly colored set
by scenic artist Kip Frase and scenic designer Rychard
Curtiss, which was as easy to move around as to look at. Curtiss's
brightly colored lights made the set sparkle, creating a visual
feast. The glowing, sumptuous costumes by Jennifer Moeller
looked fabulous on the actors and added additional texture against
the lights and set.
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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern