The wellness industry and how social media can kill (reputations) are the subjects skewered in “Quack,” a timely new comedy by Eliza Clark, in its world premiere run through Nov. 18 a the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. The two-hour play – with no intermission in this run – is ambitious. It tries to tackle the medical profession, weight-loss gimmicks and supposed success, anti-vaxers, misogyny, weight and body image, viral and vicious social media, and fleeting fame with entertaining but uneven results.
Dr. Irving Baer (Dan Bucatinsky) is a daytime TV medical guru à la Dr. Oz, with millions of American women relying on his advice to help them lose weight and take care of their own and their children’s health. Killing time practicing his golf swing in his office before a taping, Baer asks his protégé nurse Kelly (Jackie Chung) to tell him the pertinent details of a new negative magazine article about him.
The article was written by a woman whom Clark weirdly named River Thumbolt (Shoniqua Shandai). The piece, which makes Thumbolt a hot item, questions his medical judgment for not recommending vaccinations, suggesting that his role as a trusted public figure giving medical advice was responsible for some children dying from the measles. It also questions his ethics for endorsing health products and those of his wife, Meredith (Jessalyn Gilsig), whose diet empire has been built partly on her husband’s hype.
Once the scathing article goes viral, Baer’s career and his wife’s company are in jeopardy. Both Kelly and Meredith advise the doctor on how to fight back and handle the negative publicity.
Instead, he turns to misogynistic blogger, Brock Silver (Nicholas D’Agosto), whose rapidly growing following of enraged men believe today’s women are emasculating them. Maybe the effect is lost in the post-Brett Kavanaugh whiny-privileged male haze or the machismo rants would have fallen flat two months ago anyway.
“Quack” does hit many of its marks and shows promise … with some smoothing out of the writing and the direction by Neel Keller. The flow feels off and bits overacted. However, Dr. Oz and his ilk are ripe targets, and so are the ups and downs of public opinion. The changes in the fates of Dr. Baer, his wife, Kelly, Thumbolt and Silver during the play are meteoric, largely driven by social media and the internet. As Clark has one character observe: “Can you imagine a life where everything you’ve ever said is being written down for people to pore over later, to meticulously comb through for mistakes?”
Every one of the actors is effective at times and off-putting. Gilsig fares the best as the brash wife who “made bodies a business.” Bucatinsky plays his role like a sitcom, pausing a little too obviously for a laugh track. Chang is appealing as the eager assistant, but not as credible later on. Shandai at times seems too timid for someone in the media headlights with a hot story to sell. D’Agosto leaves little impression besides his characters political leanings.
Despite of its imperfections, ”Quack” and its skewering of the daytime doc and contemporary culture is entertaining. The show will be at the Kirk Douglas through Nov. 18.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance Oct. 28, 2018
Center Theatre Group: World Premiere Of ‘Quack’ Opens At Douglas
Photos by Craig Schwartz.of (top) Dan Bucatinsky and Jessalyn Gilsig and (inset) Bucatinsky and Jackie Chung in the world premiere of “Quack” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. All Uses © 2018 Craig Schwartz Photography