Molière meets the Marx Brothers

Alonna Ray, Contributing Writer

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Fast paced, witty and full of … lumberjacks? This semester, senior drama major Paul Lewis is directing Molière’s famous farce, “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.”

The show revolves around the perpetually drunk lumberjack Sganarelle (sophomore Noah Kersting). Due to his constant drinking and misuse of the family money, Sganarelle infuriates his wife, Martha (junior Regina Mills), causing her to seek revenge. To frustrate her husband, Martha hatches a plan to trick village servants into thinking Sganarelle is a doctor. Without any idea of how he got there, he finds himself in the position of having to cure a local’s daughter. Chaos and hilarity ensue.

Lewis said that when trying to choose a play for his Senior Studio, he struggled to find something that fit his personality, but when he came to a Lady Gregory translation of “The Doctor in Spite of Himself,” everything clicked.

“In the first line, I was just hooked. I thought it was so hilarious — I just read it all in one sitting,” Lewis said.

Lewis chose to set the play in a small town in modern-day Wisconsin and is drawing heavily on influences such as commedia dell’arte, an Italian form of improvisation based on stock characters, and classic Marx Brothers comedy.

Both of these styles incorporate “lazzi,” improvised lines or actions that break from the action of the play purely for the entertainment of the audience. This form of comedy was central to commedia dell’arte and heavily influenced old vaudevillian comedy and the Marx Brothers.

“For me, working with commedia dell’arte tells me that you basically have leave to find lazzis outside the text between the lines. Maybe [the character] is doing something ridiculous, and that’s the reason he’s cut short on some of [his] lines,” Kersting said. “If you see dashes, you can basically do whatever you want. And that’s what we’re looking for: some great lazzis from old commedia dell’arte or the Marx Brothers.”

Mills said that when making her character choices, the influence of these styles lead her to make much more colorful decisions.

“It most definitely makes me choose the craziest options for my character, because the Marx Brothers are very over the top and crazy in everything,” Mills said.

Kersting added that when playing Sganarelle he likes to equate his buffoonery to some stereotypes on campus.

“Think of someone here at UD who really appreciates their philosophy classes but are also not very good at school. They only do some of the reading, but they love to quote it, and they love drinking even more than that. Sganarelle really likes to quote philosophy all the time — especially when he’s pretending to be a doctor,” Kersting said. “I’ve always loved characters that sound like they’re being logical, and everyone’s buying that they’re logical, but they’re really just making things up and getting it all wrong.”

Kersting and Lewis have also been working together on the spring Mainstage “Measure for Measure,” directed by associate professor Stefan Novinski. Their characters in the Mainstage are quite similar to Molière’s creations, so many of their discoveries carry over between the two plays.

“Working with Paul in the Mainstage helps because we are given leave to be as ridiculous as we want when we’re on stage together. And that helps because this play is his brainchild, and so I get to work with him with more of a focus on his preferences,” Kersting said.

Mills described how well this show fits Lewis’s personality, praising him for his sense of humor and creativity.

“Paul is just a great, funny guy. All he wants to do is have fun. [He] just loves being a sweet guy that tells jokes and just wants to have a good time, and this play is most definitely about having a good time. At the end of the run, you’re always like, ‘That was a blast,’ ” Mills said.

“This is the exact comedy that I love,” Lewis said. “It’s definitely something coming out of deep within me. I like to be ridiculous to people, kind of fool them into thinking things just for the sake of comedy.”

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