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Paulanne Simmons

"Dr. Knock" Makes a Timely Comment on the Medical Profession

"Dr. Knock, or The Triumph of Medicine"
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
Mint Theater Company
311 West 43rd Street. 3rd Floor
Opened April 14, 2010
Tues. thru Thurs. 7 pm, Fri. 8 pm, Sat. 2 & 8 pm, Sun. 2 pm
Tickets: $55 (212) 315-0231 or www.minttheater.org
Closes June 6, 2010
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons may 8, 2010

Thomas M. Hammond and Patrick Husted in "Dr. Knock, or The Triumph of Medicine." Photo by Richard Termine.

For some, the medical profession is the highest calling a person can follow. For others it is filled with quacks who are more concerned with making money than curing the sick. It is the latter who will most appreciate Jules Romains' enormously funny "Dr. Knock or The Triumph of Medicine."

Jules Romains was a French poet, playwright, novelist and essayist whose work was inspired by his philosophy of Unanimisin, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of all people. He was already a well-known writer when "Dr. Knock" opened in Paris in 1923 and ran for a stunning five years.

Patrick Husted, Thomas M. Hammond and Patti Perkins in "Dr. Knock, or The Triumph of Medicine." Photo by Richard Termine.

Although the play became a staple of European theater and the BBC filming of "Dr. Knock" in 1938 and 1968 was followed by successful revivals in 1979 and 1994, the Mint's production offers New Yorkers the first chance to see the French masterpiece in 72 years.

Translator Gus Kaikkomen directs a sparkling cast headed by Thomas M. Hammond as the charming but conniving Dr. Knock. Knock buys an unprofitable practice in a sleepy backwater from the equally conniving but less creative and intelligent Dr. Parpalaid (Patrick Husted) and his wife, Madame Parpalaid (Patti Perkins).

Thomas M. Hammond and Chris Mixon in "Dr. Knock, or The Triumph of Medicine." Photo by Richard Termine.

Their trip to the small town of St. Maurice in Parpalaid's ancient, barely functioning car (sitting on a turntable so it goes metaphorically no place) sets the lazy, ironic tone that makes the play such a pleasure to watch. It becomes increasingly apparent that the vastly unqualified Knock has something up his sleeve. The question is, what?

With the help of the Town Crier (Chris Mixon), M. Bernard, the town's schoolteacher (Scott Barrow) and M. Mousquet, the local pharmacist (Mixon again), Dr. Knock draws the gullible townsfolk into his trap, convincing these perfectly healthy individuals they are all suffering from a disease that can only be cured by a long and expensive treatment.

Thomas M. Hammond and Jennifer Harmon in "Dr. Knock, or The Triumph of Medicine." Photo by Richard Termine.

Everyone from the oafish Farmers (Mixon and Barrow) to the elegant Madame Remy (Jennifer Harmon) is taken in by Knock's officious solicitude. All the good doctor has to do is scrunch up his eyebrows and put a comforting hand on his patient's shoulder. Vanity and the natural fear of death do the rest.

The Mint production uses a minimalist set and a cast in multiple roles, proving once again that less can be more. Early 20th century France, dotted with many small towns inhabited by thrifty, unassuming and unsophisticated folk could not have been better evoked.

But perhaps what makes Knock so effective at cheating people out of their money and amusing the audience is the way Hammond makes it apparent that the doctor half believes his own lies. As we all know, the best charlatans are those who can fool themselves. And the main ingredient in most of the old-time miracle cures sold by medicine men was alcohol.



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