I could just tell you that Quack, the comedic play running right now at the Douglas in Culver City, is definitely entertaining and intelligent, and features cast members from the famous former TV shows Scandal and Glee. And that should be enough to suggest you see it.
But there’s so much more to it than that, both yay and nay. So, let’s discuss it all, shall we?
I was trying to describe the storyline to someone the day after the opening, and after his hundredth, “Huh?,” I realized that this tale is just way too muddled. By being about sooo many popular issues rolled into one, it loses some of whatever focus it is trying to have. There are several surprises that come out in the scenario, but when I saw them, I was at a loss for how to react. Each time I thought, “Is this the end? Or just a big curve?” What should be the major plot points seem to lose some impact among the many.
There’s so much to say about this new play, some of which I can best explain with analogies from my own life. (There’s a surprise, eh?) Here’s one: When Mr. X was starring in the National Tour of a Broadway musical in Toronto, we rented a yacht for a fabulous party with the entire cast and crew (and musicians, who were shocked that someone actually included them in a soiree!!! Shame. But that’s another story.) The cruise was due to be, just like in Gilligan’s Island, a three-hour tour, but when the uber-generous Mr. X said, “Let’s go for an extra hour!,” the entire assemblage was thrilled and enthusiastic, and partied and danced even harder. So, after that one, with the gang still into it, he opted for yet another hour, which seemed to make everybody happy. But then a few people asked to go back to shore to get off, because of one commitment or another. By the time we docked, everyone limped off. It had been enough of a good thing already. And that’s how many of us in the opening night audience felt about Quack–it was a fun journey for awhile, until it went waaaay too long.
At just about two hours in a row, this show really needs an intermission. There’s a natural spot for it, too, right after the first hour. I really don’t understand why it doesn’t have one. It’s engaging enough for those first sixty minutes, so there’s no need to hold the audience hostage, as I feel some intermission-less shows do; I doubt that anyone would leave Quack before Act II, if there was one.
The setting is the office of a TV doctor, and tells of a behind-the-scenes situation that has arisen before the play begins. I had never watched doctors-supposedly-helping-people shows like the one portrayed here until about a month ago, when I put the TV on for some afternoon baseball, and before I could change the channel, creepy Dr. Phil was on. Since everything about him makes my skin crawl, I, of course, had not watched his show. (And also because I have no time for that nonsense. Who does?! I want names.) But what was on my screen was so riveting, in a car crash kind of way, that I could not look away. And, since I was “live,” (meaning I had to watch the commercials—ugh,) I had to see the ads for what was coming up in the next week. And I was, shamefully, hooked. And now I’ve even roped Mr. X into this drivel on occasion.
So, even though the TV doc at the center of this narrative is more akin to Dr. Oz than Dr. Phil, (because he gives medical advice, not just psychological,) I understood the basic premise of Quack, before it gets bogged-down in contending with way too many societal subjects for one theatre piece.
That being said, it does touch on many important, timely, relevant issues–the wellness community, gender inequality, getting way too much money to hawk products that may or may not deliver on their promise, the out-of-control power of social media, fat-shaming, and fraud (in several senses.) It even hits, for a brief second, on personal consent. Because of trying to get all these topics in there, Quack is not exactly the laugh riot that it almost is.
But on the flip side, it does provide plenty of food for thought: to vaccinate or not, the war of the sexes, the role of money versus principles, how words and thoughts and intentions can get twisted in the press,* and so much more. *[Note: Unfortunately, I know first-hand how the press can bend things for their own purposes—when I was first seeing Mr. X, it was big gossip news, which was a shock to me. And the things that the rags printed about us were just crazy! All our own words were re-interpreted to make the best story for the public. So that part of this tale rings so true!]
The good news is that this is the World Premiere of Quack, so hopefully playwright Eliza Clark can trim some of the fat, (a major topic of the play,) along the future road.
And there really are plenty of laughs in this show. Especially when Jessalyn Gilsig, as the doctor’s harsh wife, comes into the picture. But she’s not on stage often enough, having just a couple of scenes. Her character showing-up gives the play quite a spark, but that means that it all goes sort-of flat when she exits. The weird thing for me is that I barely noticed her on Glee. And I watched every episode (until Cory Monteith died, that is. Then I just couldn’t do it anymore.) So her comedic chops were a very pleasant surprise in Quack.
Having never seen Scandal, (well, I did try the pilot, but could not get past even a half hour of that annoying-ness,) I was not familiar with Quack star, Dan Bucatinsky, who I’m sure will be a big attraction to audiences here. But Sean Hayes had actually introduced us at an opening of a show at the Ahmanson about two years ago, and Dan seemed nice. So I was happy to see him work, as I’m sure all of LA will be.
As I took my seat, I became an instant fan of this fabulous set, designed by Dane Laffrey; it’s the best one I’ve ever seen at the Douglas, bar none! And it gets even better as the play goes on. I kept wondering how they were changing little parts of the office so quickly between scenes, and then I realized the set is on a turntable, which I did not know was possible in so intimate a theatre. And it’s the quietest, smoothest turntable I’ve ever seen in any theater anywhere. It’s just wonderful. I give major kudos to Dane and the crew for this really impressive work.
I also give props to the playwright for having the characters mention that a couple of children died from not getting the measles vaccine. As a former teacher, (and just a person,) I feel that getting children vaccinated is of the utmost importance. But that’s a whole other topic for another time.
And now, I want to take this opportunity to laud the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, in general. I always enjoy going there; it’s so casual and comfortable. It’s the most relaxing theatre experience in all of LA! My friend that night had never been there before, and he loved it, too, even from the outside. He was as impressed as I am by just how beautiful the exterior is from afar.
And their opening nights always feature fun fetes post-performance, a tradition that was continued for Quack. The food that was passed by lovely servers was generous and delicious, and we had an extra treat on the way out—a gelato bar right by the door! (Good thing my diet is not starting until today! I’ll tell you the shallow reason in January, which is a clue right there.)
The upbeat crowd, including a few celebrities you’ll read about in my next Celeb Sightings column, seemed to be having a blast, mingling away and discussing all the heady topics that are brought up in this play.
So, even with those few concerns that I have with the show, I still recommend seeing Quack. Just maybe go rocking’ a pair of Depends for the duration.
Quack running through November 18, 2018
Kirk Douglas Theatre 9820 Washington Blvd. Culver City www.centertheatregroup.org