Thank you, Shotgun Players, for presenting the closest thing to the excitement of live theater that we’ve seen in many long months. Screened live, via Zoom, Quack is a stimulating, biting play about a daytime TV doctor whose career careens downward as a result of an exposé. Although the four very talented performers each appear in individual Zoom boxes, Brady Brophy-Hilton’s deft direction makes the interaction among the actors look and feel seamless.
Quack, which premiered in Southern California in 2018, was written by Eliza Clark, a playwright, and co-executive producer of TNT’s Animal Kingdom. She conceived of the theme of influential men who evade responsibility for their faults and failures soon after Donald Trump was elected president. Quack also explores society’s acceptance of public bashing of powerful, influential women. The so-called wellness industry, body negativity, the journalistic cult of career canceling, as well as anti-feminist male forums, are also hammered in this satiric two-hour comedy (which includes an intermission).
A Dr. Oz-type talk show host and medical infotainer, Dr. Irving Baer (terrific David Boyll) covets a faithful audience of millions of women. But the TV doctor becomes the subject of a mocking exposé by a budding journalist, River Thumbolt (first-rate Leigh Rondon-Davis), who has secrets of her own. River’s exposé, which leads to TV appearances and a book deal, links Dr. Baer with causing childhood deaths by giving credence to the anti-vaccine movement, among other ethical and societal taboos. “I’m an endocrinologist,” Dr. Baer shouts with apparently innocent exasperation to his superficially faithful assistant, Kelly (outstanding Joyce Domanico-Huh), “What do I know? I’m not an authority on vaccines.”
Dr. Baer’s formidable, glacial wife Meredith (excellent Hilary Hesse) loses her multi-million dollar diet and supplement business when her husband ignores her advice to stave off his downfall and drop his assistant Kelly. And just when one wonders where the play is going, a new character, Brock, appears (first-class Chris Ginesi). As the head of a male misogyny movement, Brock posits Baer as yet another potent man laid low by an “uppity” woman.
As the karmic circle goes around and comes around, none of Quack’s characters emerges free from the cycle of fame and blame, and the resulting fallout. With skill and wit, Quack makes mincemeat out of all public persons who believe themselves invincible. Quack is a humorous, lively, contemporary view of what’s wrong with today’s culture and society. Readers, I’m interested in your comments about the ending.
Shotgun Players was successful in replicating the look and feel of an authentic theater experience. There is an on-line program to read and download. Quack’s metaphorical curtain rises at an exact time, and the intermission retains Shotgun’s familiar grab-bag prizes for answering questions. I almost could picture myself waiting on the drinks line at intermission. The production values were high, with the short scenic videos of New York City adding to the realism.
Quack will stream live through Saturday, Aug. 15, on Zoom. Reservations are required. Tickets are offered on a pay-what-you-can scale from $8-$40. All proceeds go towards paying the artists, production team, and Shotgun staff members. Shotgun is offering to those in financial need access to free tickets by entering the promotional code PLACEBO on the seat selection page. There will be post-show conversations hosted by members of the Shotgun Players’ community, which will begin with separate affinity groups for men, women, and non-binary individuals, and then return to a larger group for share-outs and further discussion. Quack on-demand may also be viewed as a digital download Wednesday, Aug. 19 through Wednesday, Aug. 26. Those tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a recommended price of $20. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Shotgun Players online. Update, Aug. 19: Shotgun Players has extended the livestream of Quack until Aug. 26.