The very title “Quack” suggests something comic, since some people often use a duck sound for humorous effect.
But there’s very little silly about Eliza Clark’s acerbic new play, “Quack,” currently at the Alley Theatre. Sure the play has a couple of laugh lines to break the tension, but this is a dramatic, up-close examination of political correctness versus hearsay — the CNN versus Fox News mentality, fat versus skinny, good health versus charlatan wellness, and even male versus female.
Can a person lose two hundred pounds without resorting to illegal drugs? Likewise, can someone who’s paid to bring joy to the multitude of afternoon TV addicts really be telling the truth?
The play opens with a popular television doctor whose show has drawn the wrath of a blogger-turned-best-selling-author and has called the doctor out on comments he made on his show about vaccines in a lengthy article in a publication called Atlantic Monthly.
Before he knows it, Dr. Baer has his world turned upside down. As Baer, Alley resident member Chris Hutchinson gives gravitas to the internal conflict his character undergoes, right down to his hair standing ungainly uncombed when he’s reduced to sleeping on his office sofa surrounded by junk food and using a yoga mat for a blanket.
Michelle Elaine as author River Thumbolt dishes out her vitriol with relish, but as her backstory is revealed to the audience she goes from a pariah to the play’s sympathetic character.
Julia Krohn, as a gilded Mrs. Baer, and Christina Liang as Kelly, Baer’s assistant that eventually takes over the now floundering medical show, are solid in their supporting roles. Yet its Alley resident member Jay Sullivan that has the most clever role. Sullivan, as Brock Silver, only appears halfway through and seems to be a helpful confidante to Dr. Baer, only to turn vindictive once his true motives are revealed.
All the characters are truly like Janus. But instead of their two faces looking at once toward the future and the past, their countenances are at once seductive, and then once you’ve fallen for their game they back stab with little pity.
“Quack” may be a bit too serious, even for the seasoned theatre goer. Sure it may look like a duck and walk like a duck, but the play makes its point by showing us characters terribly flawed to the point where redemption seems besides the point.
That’s the objective one supposes. In a world where Twitter takedowns are viciously directed towards the least innocuous subject, the cast of “Quack” only seems to step up their game when television ratings or speaker’s fees provide the game-winning point.
“Quack” was workshopped in January 2018 at the Alley’s All New Festival, with a subsequent premiere at Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group last October. “Quack” runs at the Alley’s intimate Neuhaus Theatre through March 10.