Taking On the Patriarchy in Quack

The world premiere of Eliza Clark’s play individualizes the #MeToo movement.

Dan Bucatinsky and Jessalyn Gilsig in the world premiere of Quack, directed by Neel Keller, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Dan Bucatinsky and Jessalyn Gilsig in the world premiere of Quack, directed by Neel Keller, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
(© Craig Schwartz)

Male entitlement sits at the forefront of Quack, the salty new satire by Eliza Clark now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. At the crux of the comedy is an institutionalized resistance to growth as a society.

Smug Dr. Irving Baer (Dan Bucatinsky) has become a media empire. His television self-help show has won him many awards and the adoration of millions. His diet tips and opinions about medical standards and practices are followed with cultish observance. Kelly (Jackie Chung), who acts as Baer's assistant even though she has earned a spot on his TV show as a qualified nurse, recognizes her mentor's genius while getting frustrated at his overwhelming ego. Baer's wife, Meredith (Jessalyn Gilsig), terrorizes the staff every time she storms into the office so her husband can remain the office good guy. Dr. Baer's fame and wealth are in jeopardy, though, when a news article calls into question Baer's integrity. Suddenly, the medical god of the airwaves is scrutinized for all his behavior on and off the air. Baer goes on the attack, causing a showdown with the journalist (Shoniqua Shandai), a moralistic former viewer who has achieved fame from the article and is now compiling a book-length exposé on the famous doctor.

Pertinent in this volatile time, the comedy tackles many essential contemporary issues, including celebrity abuses of power, and the counterrevolution that has given rise to open misogyny. But it feels too much for a one-act play to investigate appropriately. Clark has written intelligent and funny characters shaded with inconsistencies that make them human. However, Baer's character is so obnoxious and whiny, he becomes cannon fodder.

The most intriguing character, at once unsympathetic and yet beguiling, is Brock, the leader of a men's movement. Nicholas D'Agosto is extraordinary as the low-key zealot, who explains his belief that men belong in the hunter and gatherer mode so that women can achieve their duty of birthing babies. His tone is so warm and inviting, one keeps forgetting that he is pontificating repugnant, truly dangerous nonsense. Gilsig, as the caustic wife, appears to have the most integrity of the bunch. Abrasive and sometimes cruel, at least her motives are always up-front.

Chung has the trickier role of being both idealistic but capable of insincerity, and she plays these contradictions well. Shandai is commanding in her confrontations with the slimy doctor. In her opening scene, she plasters a defiant smile as Baer implodes, and later turns caustic, shaking the scenery with her rage. Alas, Bucatinsky fails to find Baer's humanity. He lands the jokes and projects the character's sleaze, but he doesn't trigger identification in the audience to allow them to desire to spend two hours with him.

Director Neel Keller keeps the pacing and the humor flowing. Raquel Barreto's costumes reflect the characters: the dapper tailored suits for Dr. Baer, the power suits for Mrs. Baer, the colorful fitted outfit for the journalist, and Brock's civilized suit that hides his thuggish behavior. Dane Laffrey's rotating set, which includes two versions of the same room, allows the stage to reset quickly.

Health care and its many pitfalls in America deserve to be in the spotlight, highlighting the hypocrisy and danger of the current system. At the same time, the growth of exposed misogyny in these last few years and its stranglehold on victims also deserves extensive debate. Quack intends to lead a debate on both issues, but is so underdeveloped that it ends up chasing its own tail.