An absence of responsibility

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At first Eliza Clark’s play “Quack” feels like a thinly veiled take-down of a Dr. Oz-like TV doctor.

Our central character, Dr. Baer has a little problem.  A lengthy expose targeting him has just come out and his young assistant Kelly - is trying to talk him down.  While he feels like it’s all “fake news,” it seems like the story’s gaining traction. Apparently Dr. Baer was less than definitive on the need to have kids vaccinated and now there’s been a measles epidemic and kids have died.  The press is having a field day. CNN is interviewing the writer. It’s a mess.

Dr. Baer has an afternoon TV show where, he tells us, he really helps people, lots of people.  His audience adores him. He thinks of himself as a great healer and a feminist. After all, we’re told, his audience is mostly women so you do what suits the demographic, right?

It looks like the measles deaths aren’t the only problem.  Apparently Dr. Baer is big on weight loss and his wife has a snake-oil empire - excuse me, a line of wellness products. She’s mentioned in the expose and that’s a problem. She’s hell on wheels and not happy about any of this.

Meanwhile, Kelly is just trying to keep everything together.  After all, in addition to being Dr. Baer’s assistant and occasional co-host, she’s also a nurse so she wants to take care of people too.  That’s why she’s here with Dr. Baer and why she admires him so much. He helps people, right?

Dr. Baer, of course, mistakes this admiration and goes in for an unwanted kiss.

As if all of this isn’t bad enough, Dr. Baer decides to attack the writer of the expose because, of course, it’s the media’s fault.  She just happens to be a formerly obese woman. He decides the best way to handle his crisis is by discrediting her. To do this he elicits the help of an alt-righty men’s rights character who assures Dr. Baer that displacement of men by women is happening everywhere and all he really needs to do is find his inner “lion.”

Did I mention this is a comedy?

So there’s no question this is a topical play, it’s a veritable grab bag of today’s headlines.  The question is what this play is trying to do beyond being topical.

Do we need, at this particular moment, a play about an abusive, opportunistic powerful man who’s ostensible penalty for all his transgressions is a $30 million dollar severance package? And that man is not only the center of the play but the presumably sympathetic comic character?  

Each play, after all, carries with it its own morality, its own conscience.  A playwright crafts a world where some characters are rewarded while others are punished.  You can imagine a play as a cautionary tale or as an escape from the weight of the world. Or even a political statement.

With “Quack” it’s hard to tell what Ms. Clark and Center Theatre Group were going after beyond topicality.  In the end, “Quack” feels like the pop medicine its central character practices, driven by fads and the latest trend and devoid of any deeper commitment.

This is one over-produced play you can catch simply by reading any week of headlines.

“Quack” plays at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City through November 18th.

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Dan Bucatinsky in the world premiere of “Quack” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz Photography