THE BETTER DOCTOR: A SILENT FILM ON STAGEBy Matt Lyle
Directed by - Cassie Bann and Justin Locklear
Director of Cinematography - Marc Rouse and Frank Robertson
Music Director - Wade Cofer
Foley Artist, Musician - Johnny Sequenzia
Musician/Composer - Adam Cole and Noah Jackson
Scenic Design ? Isaac, Jerod, and Josh Davies
Costume Design ? Jennifer Madison
Lighting Design ? Scott Payne
Stage Manager ? Cyndee Rivera
Producer- Josh Glover
The Intern - Ezra Jesse Bookman
Velma - Lindsay Bartlett
Mumps -Lily McCollum
Slings - Manon McCollum
Rickets -Nadaha McCullough
Chief of Medicine, Judge - Robert Long
Mad Pharmacist, Cop - Ben Schroth
Pregnant Lady, Secretary, Snooty Lady - Marti Etheridge
The Beastly Orderly, Newsie - Andrew Aguilar
Amoeba, Prosecutor, Bread Man - Roth Farrar
Reviewed Performance: 5/3/2012
Reviewed by Heather Alverson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Better Doctor is a captivating play that has audiences laughing from the very start. Set after the great depression, a woman named Velma decides to help three children with their medical struggles and get them the medical attention they deserve. A hastily planned visit to the doctor?s office turns into a plethora of obstacles and scheming to miraculously save these children from their illness.
Matt Lyle is a clever playwright known for his satirical writing, and for stepping outside of the traditional theatre box. Lyle?s first silent film performance was The Boxer, which ultimately lead him to write The Better Doctor. Lyle does a great job of capturing all aspects of silent film from the interaction between the actors; the underlying messages about the health care system, to the slap stick comedy throughout the entire show.
Lyle?s show is a challenge to any theatre encouraging them to step back in time, but keep the modern humor that holds today?s audiences. Upstart Productions rises to that challenge showing Dallas that small theatres can do big things.
The Good Samaritan Velma, portrayed by Lindsay Bartlett, is adorable and makes you proud to see a young American woman fighting for these children. Her movement is beautiful from the miming to short dance movements she includes within her blocking.
Ezra Bookman playing The ?Doctor? is visually stimulating. His entire physique from his facial expressions to comedic movement would make Charlie Chaplin proud. Bookman is a great performer, always in the moment, and continuing the scene even when the moment is not about his character.
Lily McCollum, Manon McCollum, and Nadaha McCullough that play the three children are heart wrenching. The children looked so pathetic that you just wanted to reach out and run to their aid. McCullough playing the character of Rickets, seemed to never catch a break, and had wonderful expressive moments revealing all of the pain and frustration that she was going through.
Robert Long?s representation of The Chief of Medicine and the Judge held a consistent cynical expression on his face mimicking the inevitable evil villain that existed in most silent films. The expression was so intense you could not help but laugh and feel his sense of malevolence.
The rest of the ensemble included Ben Schroth, Marti Etheridge, Andrew Aguilar, and Roth Farrar playing numerous extreme characters that interacted with Velma and the ?Doctor?. Each character added to the story and these actors were versatile enough to give different characters to the audience within minutes of each other.
The most impressive facet of this show was the collaboration between the actors, technicians, and musicians. Fun, upbeat numbers, led by Wade Cofer, furthered the atmosphere and humor of the show. Musicians Johnny Sequenzia, Adam Cole, and Noah Jackson gave the faultless underscore to the performance singing in perfect harmony, and giving live sound effects.
Costumes by Jennifer Madison stayed true to the period, and were all in grayscale. The costumes enhanced the black and white visual to insinuate the fact that it was a silent film. Scenic designers Isaac, Jerod, and Josh Davies continued this effect with their scenic design. The set is comprised of simplistic moveable backdrops in black and white with sketches of different locations, and a scrim curtain in front of the apron of the stage giving the illusion of a screen. A projector displayed the subtitles on the scrim giving it a 3-D effect. This made the subtitles stick out even more. Surprisingly the lights and sound were in unison the entire time. It is impressive as they have to be exact in between scenes, subtitles, and video clips.
Directors Cassie Bann and Justin Locklear led a very strong piece. The hardest challenge is guiding your actors to find a place between being too big with mime, or not big enough to express dialogue to your audience. Bann and Locklear found a great medium for the actors. Another impressive factor was that they used different types of movement from mime, slow motion, and dance. The blocking stayed true to silent film by having different levels and the epic silent film bit of characters falling down.
There were only a few minor setbacks during the show. The buildings air conditioning system was having some complications making the audience and actors on stage sweat. However, seeing that the theatre just moved into that space it is understandable that in Texas it might be a little uncomfortable. Also, something back stage fell down making a large noise taking away from the silence just enough to be a short distraction. Despite these setbacks the actors kept their decorum and did not let it affect the performance.
Upstart Productions has produced a really exciting show giving the audience a great evening of theatre. Not only did they perform Lyle?s show, but gave a Vaudeville ending by performing fifteen short plays in thirty minutes called Bam Knowledge. It is an understatement to say that by not saying a word at all, Upstart Productions displayed what exquisite talent they have with this unique piece.
Upstart Productions, 425 Bedford Street, Dallas, TX 75212
Through May 20, 2012
Thursday, Friday and Saturday- 7:30 pm All performances
Sunday- 2:30 pm All performances
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at www.upstarttheater.com.
Thursday evenings are ?pay what you can? admission.