Thomas M. Hammond and Patrick Husted
in Dr. Knock, Or the Triumph of Medicine
(© Richard Termine)
Thomas M. Hammond and Patrick Husted
in Dr. Knock, Or the Triumph of Medicine
(© Richard Termine)
Jules Romains' devilish 1923 revenge comedy, Dr. Knock, Or The Triumph Of Medicine -- as directed with tongue in cheek and translated jauntily by Gus Kaikkonen for the increasingly valuable Mint Theatre Company -- happens to be an extremely amusing reminder that health care is hardly a new issue. And while the work's faded particulars don't carry much relevance in today's confusing world, the situations depicted still have a vivid comic kick.

The titular Dr. Knock (Thomas M. Hammond) buys a medical practice in remote hamlet St. Maurice and soon learns from wily predecessor Dr. Parpalaid (Patrick Husted) and his uppity wife Madame Parpalaid (Patti Perkins), that not only is there little annual illness in the locality but that residents only settle bills once a year -- on Michaelmas. That day is nearly 12 months off, but Dr. Knock must pay Dr. Parpalaid on a quarterly basis, and won't have raised the funds in time.

Knock, a self-taught healer with no medical license, decides to take an unusual approach: He offers the residents free consultants and then convinces these in-good-health patients that they have been living with various illnesses that he's equipped to heal though extended and expensive treatments. (If he tried to get away with this today, Internet information available to the inquisitive would instantly give the lie to the fake physician's claims.) And rarely has the power of suggestion brought so many people to a sick bed and given so many audience members a contagious case of the chuckles.

Many of those laughs come from a parade of lively, often overripe characters who surround the not-so-good doctor. Perkins, Scott Barrow, Jennifer Harmon, and Chris Mixon all earn kudos for their chameleonesque shenanigans in a variety of roles, and designer Charles Morgan deserves high praise for his gorgeous set.

Equally laudably, Hammond, with his etched profile and pomaded hair, makes subtlety his calling-card. Gulling the unaware townsfolk and ultimately the scheming Parpalaid, he indicates his wiles by mere sideways glances and half-smiles aimed through the fourth wall.