The moment Justine Williams bounces her oversized bazoomas (if they are not beach balls she really needs to see an interior designer) in front of the puppet theater, we are hooked. We can't help love Renata Friedman's puppets, in concert with Matt Saunders' Scenic Design. Perhaps the new Berkeley Rep production of Moliere's "A Doctor in Spite of Himself" is not exactly what the playwright envisioned, when the play was written in the seventeenth century, but when we see the combination of puppetry and live action we are charmed.
The other woman in the cast, Julie Briskman as Jacqueline, is every bit as entertaining as Williams. Her rap in three distinct voices is a show stopper.
You've got to love the band -- Greg C. Powers (left) and Robertson Witmer. And Steven Epp as the clown Sganarelle, Liam Craig as Lucas and Jacob Ming Trent as Valere give us plenty of laughs and some very nice vocalizing.
But you're right -- the above is not leading to a rave review. In the end, this show is just too clever for its own good. Slapsticky to a fault and over-the-top with dumbed-down updated jokes, Moliere himself would probably wonder what the show is trying to say. They bring down the Fourth Wall so often, by wisecracking with the audience about Orinda and Gingrich, that we feel like it is Friday night at the Comedy Club.
It's too bad -- because the acting is stellar and the puppetry and music are a lot of fun. But you don't walk out of the theater feeling any different than when you walked in. "Doctor" is a co-production with Yale Repertory Theater, so perhaps director and co-adapter Christopher Bayes, as well as Steven Epp who in addition to having the lead role is also credited with co-adaptation with Bayes, have been saddled with decisions made by others.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ?
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Divison awards "A Doctor in Spite of Himself" Three Stars -- in spite of itself. You can't hate Moliere. The show is so interesting visually that we would love to have people take a look at it. The question mark is whether or not you love slapstick geared to teenagers. The Opening Night crowd cheered in the right places and laughed at all the jokes, and you might too.
"A Doctor in Spite of Himself"
Berkeley Repertory Theater, Roda Theater
2015 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through March 25, 2012