By Ellen Lawton
All’s fair in love and war, as the saying goes, but five doctor impersonators might be going a little too far… At Meridian High School’s The Love Doctor, over-the-top comedy meets 17th century France in an unlikely marriage of pure entertainment.
Meridian’s production of The Love Doctor actually wove together four different plays, all of them written by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Molière. Widely celebrated as France’s greatest playwright, Molière garnished his works with satire and subtle references to the jokes of the 1600s. Meridian’s production kept this spirit going, sprinkling in references to things like the pandemic amidst a classic story. Two pairs of lovers were denied a happy ending due to a disapproving mother, and everyone, from the town fool to a visiting British solicitor, would be involved in the chaos before the day was through!
The wonderful absurdity of the show was only possible with the entire cast’s commitment. Alex Fulgham as the hapless Louis, for instance, slept onstage for close to an hour, surrounded by other characters leaping from balconies or smacking each other with sticks. Every second was packed with action. And unwittingly orchestrating it all was the Love Doctor himself, Sganarelle (Matthew Bloss-Baum).
Bloss-Baum was brilliantly baffled by everything, often with a gaping mouth and flailing arms. His character took on multiple identities within the show, first as a “doctor” examining lovesick Lucile (Katie Rice), then that doctor’s imaginary brother, to evade suspicion. Each time he transformed, his voice began to slur or his back hunched over in an impressive display of physical comedy. And whenever his wife Martine (Isabel Pierce) stormed onstage, he flinched and began to bite his nails, with the expression of a man who knew he’d messed up.
He was matched only by the energy of Valere (Declan Kennedy) and Leandre (Hugo Ratheau), the unlucky suitors to Lucile and Sabine (Abby Fred), respectively. Both charmed with their every move. Kennedy, attempting to hide from Lucile’s strict mother, clung to the side of a balcony for nearly ten minutes, trembling in fright and making faces at the audience. Kennedy creeped onto the stage and plank-walked off it, always on alert, in ways that never failed to make the audience cackle. Ratheau, meanwhile, sprung onto tiptoes while talking to anyone, waltzed about with the exaggerated grace of a fool in love.
The theme of love ran through every aspect of the show, down to the details of the characters’ makeup (done by Joy Wilson). In true 17th century French fashion, everyone sported a mole, and the placement signified a trait. Rice and Fred wore hearts on their left cheeks to symbolize engagement, while Bloss-Baum had a mark on the end of his nose, signifying impudence. The sets (by Augie Reitmeyer and the school’s Technical Theater Class) also aided in the story, with Kennedy leaping from its balcony and Bloss-Baum scrambling up the stairs. Lovers clambered up handholds on the wall and intruders shoved the door open in an excellent display of set functionality.
The whole cast’s energy was infectious, leaving the audience roaring with delight. But all good things must come to an end. As the “doctor” was unmasked and the couples were finally permitted to wed, Meridian reminded its audience of an important fact- laughter truly is the best medicine.