Doctor makes health care feel-good fun

A string of musical hits and dances brings flair and humor to Randall Gray’s play, Doctor, Doctor!, currently running at the recently opened theater Stages of Gray. Though the play is advertised as a work about health care reform, the story is anything but what the stuffy sounding subject connotes. The show’s easy-breezy atmosphere, strong cast performances, unforgettable characters and heartfelt story make for a theatrical experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Love doctor · In Doctor, Doctor! Christine Carter (left), Rich Lee and Savajane Williams star as doctors and secretaries who fall for each other. - Courtesy of Philip Sokoloff

Love doctor · In Doctor, Doctor! Christine Carter (left), Rich Lee and Savajane Williams star as doctors and secretaries who fall for each other. – Courtesy of Philip Sokoloff

On the surface, the script seems tame: In hopes of delivering health care more efficiently, five health specialists — psychiatrist Jeffrey Kruger, surgeon Amar Dhari, ob-gyn John Bob Martin, general practitioner/sports specialist/chiropractor Trevor Easton and dentist Damien Cook — decide to move their businesses under one roof. To help them, four secretaries and a nurse join their practice. By the time one throws in a pair of patients — one paranoid pregnant woman and man-child Greg Tower — words can hardly capture the shenanigans that ensue in Doctor, Doctor!

The humor of office politics and the flower of romance drive the script. What will it take for the secretaries, now working under one roof, to coexist together without breaking out into catfights? Can the show’s several romances blossom in a hotbed of dreaded disease and business? How will Cook reconcile with Kruger after he finds out that Kruger’s father was a prison guard at Auschwitz, the very place his grandfather died? The characters’ obstacles are not always easy or simple, but the light and breezy way the stories unfold allow for character growth, great drama and one big family to emerge out of a tangled plot.

A few turns and denouements might seem too cheesy at times and too good to be true for the hard-core analyst’s taste, so going with the flow and just riding the stories as they come — nonsensical as they can seem — might be for the best. Yes, the romances and the relationship politics might resolve themselves into bows that are tied too nicely, but, hey, it’s meant to be a feel-good comedy.

Viewers who do not overthink the plot, conversely, will step into a world where everything seems more cartoonish and larger than life.  The script thrives from taking a small step away from reality. That is all it takes for a zany world full of silly characters to arise, and the more mundane the setting — a doctor’s office, complete with files and receptionist desks — the better.

Each actor brings talent and life to the stage, from the costumes worn to every last mannerism — whether it is Kimberly, a pink-loving former cheerleader making pouty faces at her little stuffed poodle or the gum that Dawn, an airhead blonde, gnashes on. To cap it all off a crazy dentist, Dr. Cook stalks around with a buzzing dental drill, which is the love of his life.

Across the board, the acting, singing and dancing are fluid and natural. A range of songs — “You Are So Beautiful,” “I Will Survive,” “Celebration,” “Bad Case of Lovin’ You”— become the score in moments when love rises through the air or the times when Lydia finally tears up while letting go of the past.

Though it is an admirable feat that they can make such a small place — the stage is no bigger than the front of a classroom — come to life, it is even more a testament to the talent on stage that they can transform such an ordinary setting into something straight out of a cartoon. The buttercup walls and cream-colored office doors feel like a well-worn home by the end of the play.

Aside from the talent and well-written score, however, one other thing that puts Doctor, Doctor! into its own class: intimacy. The play achieves a closeness with the audience, a sense of camaraderie and hearty humor that every live performance should bring to the table. With the audience in the first row nearly nose-to-nose with the performers, Stages of Gray really does live up to its reputation as the most intimate theater venue in Los Angeles County. Many a time, audience members find themselves pulled onto stage, going through the silly cheerleading drills of Kimberly or singled out as the next victim of Dr. Cook’s crazed dental sessions with his beloved drill.

With the third row less than five feet away from the performers, the close vicinity might alarm at first, but the sense of private viewing and of a certain involvement with the drama that unfolds is priceless. This was proven by the laughs that exploded through the crowd and the spirited clapping during the upbeat musical scores, along with the standing ovation at the close.

From now until March 24, a number of performances remain of Doctor, Doctor! Though the play might be light-hearted, it is also full of heart, and surely with its humorous antics and breezy storyline,  it’s medicine for the soul.