There’s an old saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even if that maxim had despots and tyrants in mind, it might just be applicable to the media in today’s world. After all, a beloved TV host has power at his fingertips over not just one – but thousands and more – eager adoring hordes pinned to their television screens. Playwright Eliza Clark carefully examines this issue as she fleshes out a prime time TV doctor offering advice to his avid audience. Like Gods, media doctors are rarely questioned by an audience eager to listen and learn.
Enter Dr. Irving Baer (Dan Bucatinsky), TV’s darling and an egotistical medical guru who can do no wrong – or at least according to his publicist. Assisted by his brilliant, efficient, and very humble second-in-command Nurse Kelly (Jackie Chung), Baer has run into a problem. Persistent journalist River Thumbolt (Shoniqua Shandai) has just published a critical article exposing Baer’s involvement in the deaths of two children, children who contracted a fatal case of measles after their mothers refused to vaccinate them. These mothers purported to have gotten their anti-vaccination advice from Dr. Baer, a vocal proponent of natural medicine.
Shaken to the core, Dr. Baer wants to meet the writer, a clever black woman who has trimmed over 200 pounds from her frame in two years. When he finds out that she is writing his unauthorized biography, he furiously explodes and provides River with some angry quotes which could end his career. While his bombastic wife Meredith (Jessalyn Gilsig) tries for damage control, Baer sails on, deep in the belief that he can do no wrong. The good doctor just can’t seem to digest the handwriting on the wall. Meanwhile, as his world collapses around him, Nurse Kelly’s star is on the rise.
While Baer desperately searches for a reason for his possible impending downfall, who should enter his life but Brock (Nicholas D’Agosto), leader of the “lion man” movement and convinced that the goal of feminists is to emasculate men. The chemicals in this particular cauldron are ready to boil over.
Director Neel Keller adroitly helms this complex production, mixing cascading events and intermittent tirades with a dash of humor. The ensemble cast does a superb job of conveying the explosive aftermath when these five disparate characters come together. Kudos to Dan Bucatinsky, who conveys a complex man lost in his own PR and blind to any shortcomings, and Shoniqua Shandai, who proved to be one of the most emotional and realistic of the lot as she struggled with issues which will resonate with many in the audience. Too bad she simply fades away as the show progresses.
Diane Laffrey’s bland set design attempts to keep pace between physical and psychological changes with mixed results. Elizabeth Hayes’s lighting and Robbin E. Broad’s sound punctuate transitions of time, place, and person. QUACK is a fascinating study of power, personal pain, and the competition inherent in rising to the top. AUDIENCE ALERT: The production runs almost two hours without an intermission.
QUACK runs through November 18, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets range from $25 to $72. For information and reservations, call 213-972-7231 or go online.