Molière’s ‘The Doctor in Spite of Himself’ prescribes humor to treat serious issue

October 7, 2009 | Arts, UToday
By Angela Riddel

What does being a physician mean? The UT Department of Theatre and Film will explore that question posed by Molière in his play, “The Doctor in Spite of Himself,” Monday, Oct. 12, through Sunday, Oct. 18.

Sganarelle, played by Gordon James, “examines” the fair Lucinde, played by Chloe Obeid, in this scene from “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.”

Sganarelle, played by Gordon James, “examines” the fair Lucinde, played by Chloe Obeid, in this scene from “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.”

All performances will take place in the Center for Performing Arts Center Theatre on Main Campus. Curtain time Monday through Saturday will be at 7:30 p.m. There also will be matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The play was written in 1666 when Western medical practice was more snake oil than science. Molière satirized not only the state of medicine during his time, but also the pretentious attitude of certain medical practitioners who were spoiled by the exalted — and often unearned — status given to them by common people. The French playwright also mocked patients’ absurd expectations for miraculous cures and how medical “professionals” took advantage of their hopes.

Cornel Gabara, UT assistant professor of theatre and director of the production, said that in spite of tremendous progress in medical knowledge and technology, many of the play’s issues are still relevant today.

“In Molière’s time, only people who could afford to pay could obtain what little medicine was available. Ironically, advanced technology has not made health care universal. It is still out of reach for many for financial reasons,” Gabara said. “The health-care system and pharmaceutical industries are driven by profit, as demonstrated by commercials touting miraculous cures and the fierce political debate about universal health care that is raging right now.”

The UT Department of Theatre and Film’s season is titled “Style & Substance.” The name refers to the fact that the season’s selections were chosen to provide audiences and cast members with a sampling of a number of playwriting styles and film genres. “The Doctor in Spite of Himself” kicks off the theatre offerings as an example of commedia dell’arte or farce.

Other plays in the season will be “Machinal,” which is expressionistic in style; “Bald Soprano” and “The Lesson,” two back-to-back short plays from Eugene Ionesco that embody the philosophy of absurdism; and “Creation/Doomsday: Selections From the Chester Mystery Cycle,” which are examples of medieval guild plays whose stories are drawn from the Bible.

Gabara said that he is very excited that the department gives its acting students the opportunity to perform in such a wide variety of roles.

“With these plays, students have the chance to try these roles, to stretch themselves, to make mistakes and to learn from their mistakes and develop their acting skills,” he said. “They have to do that here, because the professional world will not give them that chance.”

Referring to “The Doctor in Spite of Himself,” Gabara said, “This play is truly an actor’s play. It’s commedia, and commedia is a very physical form of acting. That puts a lot of pressure on the actor because it’s all in the body.”

Taking the stage in the production will be 2009 UT graduate Gordon James as Sganarelle and students Margaret Lute as Martine, Katie Rediger as Geronte, Sal Simione as Valere, DJ Helmkamp as Lucas, JoEllen Jacob as Jaquelin, Chloe Obeid as Lucinde, Brian Purdue as Leandre, Nick Torrance as Monsieur Robert, Jamie Wilson as Thibaut and Megan Smith as Perrin.

Tickets are $13 for general admission; $11 for faculty, staff, alumni and seniors; and $9 for students. Season tickets are available until Monday, Oct. 12, the opening night of “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.” A season ticket includes one ticket to the opening night performance of each of the four plays in the season. Patrons may exchange their opening night seat for another performance, but must contact the box office two business days in advance or the exchange will not be honored; this will give the box office time to resell the ticket.

The Theatre and Film Department Box Office, located in the Center for Performing Arts, will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. this semester. It also will be open on the weekends when there is a performance scheduled. Tickets also can be purchased online at or by calling 419.530.2375.

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