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Le Médecin’ just what the doctor ordered

Analise Lipari | Monday, January 29, 2007

Despite the blanket of newly fallen snow and the obvious language barrier with most of its audience, the annual French Theatre Production class’s performance of Molière’s “Le Médecin malgré lui” drew a full house Sunday at the DeBartolo Performing Art Center’s (DPAC) Philbin Theater.

With its blend of witty dialogue, physical humor and outrageous situations, “Le Médecin malgré lui” drew the crowd in through the strength of the students.

Moliere’s centuries-old text takes its comedic cues from the exploits of Sganarelle, the frequently intoxicated stick collector who spends his days nursing (and often singing to) a bottle of wine and occasionally beating his wife.

Few playwrights could create humor and sympathy out of such a character, but the strength of Molière’s comedic writing helps make Sganarelle a memorable and amusing protagonist. Professor Paul McDowell gives Sganarelle a thick, booming voice to match his faux-portly figure, and an over-the-top sense of self-importance helps cement the image of this most loutish of leads.

The play opens with an angry dispute between Sganarelle and Martine (Anne Lauer), his beleaguered and oft-beaten spouse. The rapport between McDowell’s Sganarelle and Lauer’s Martine implies a humorous power struggle at the core of their relationship, with Martine criticizing his drunken gluttony and Sganarelle defending himself with roundabout “logic” and a large stick.

To get back at her husband, Martine conspires with an unwitting pair of servants, Lucas (Tom Dorwart) and Valère (Mary Corrigan) try to trick Sganarelle into believing he is a doctor (or “médecin”) in order to treat the dire condition of Lucinde (Jana Miller), the newly-mute daughter of a wealthy neighbor, Géronte (Michael Barrett).

What follows is a zany mix of physical comedy and Molière’s sharp wit, as Sganarelle comes to believe he is a doctor, and proceeds to treat patients with items such as wine and cheese.

As is custom with most works of Moliere, at the center of the turmoil is a thwarted pair of young lovers, Lucinde and the poor but sweet Léandre (Matthew Goodrich).

Lucinde has been promised by her father to an unseen and older wealthy man, and until Leandre’s miniscule fortune can compete, the two are doomed. That is, until Sganarelle decides to get himself involved.

Rounding out the cast are Heidi Storer as Jacqueline, the wet nurse in whom Sganarelle is all-too-interested, and Theresa Welch and Stephanie Brauer as Parette and Perrinette, respectively, two local women who misguidedly seek the help of the reputed “médecin” to treat their sick relative.

The production’s energy and sense of humor undoubtedly came from the students. From Dorwart’s Lucas, who stomps and hops across each scene, to Miller’s gibberish mutterings as Lucinde pretends to be mute, the cast’s care and dedication to the production shone through.

As the case may often be with performances held in the Philbin Theater, the set itself was essentially nonexistent, with little but a stool and a pile of sticks to stand for forests and houses alike.

With the colorful costumes and animated performances, however, such a stark set allowed the focus of the production to be on both the players themselves and the humor of their speech.

The continued strength and success of each year’s performance is, according to McDowell, due to none other than the students themselves.

“It’s all because of what the students find in each other,” McDowell said at the end of Sunday afternoon’s final performance. “It’s what they find in a playwright who hasn’t graced this earth in over 300 years.”