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UT Theater revives Molière classic

By John Malich
On October 8, 2009

After 343 years through contract negotiations regarding benefits, retirement and health insurance, "The Doctor in Spite of Himself" will premiere at the Center for Performing Arts on Oct. 12.

The French playwright Molière wrote and performed the play in 1666, but its universal themes are right at place in 21st century America.

"The play is rooted in a debate about health insurance," said the director, Cornel Gabara. "It was not chosen to criticize medical world, but in this system there are some practices that may need some revision."

The play is a comedy with influence from commedia dell'arte which was a form of theater by professionals who made a living acting in markets and festivals.

This form had a reputation of trained physical movements and acrobatics, Gabara said.

"The Doctor" is an example of theater Gabara explores in the Theater Department.

"The philosophy in our department is ‘dialogue is only part of the theater experience,'" he said. "Communication not only done orally, but through physical language.

The play will be performed in the Center Theatre, which Gabara uses for its versatility to bring actors off stage through the audience.

In a space where an audience members' angle could be blocked, acting for a live audience becomes exaggerated.

"In a big hall, the body becomes the face," he said.

Gordon James, a senior majoring in theatre, will play the title character Sganarelle.

He attributes his training to three of his mentors: Married couple Gabara, Irene Alby and Edmund Lingan.

James cites Lingan for ‘knowing everything about theatre' and Alby for being able to push actors' strengths past their borders.

"I've probably connected to Cornel the most because I've worked with him the most," James said. "I'm always right next to him and he can turn it on and turn it off so quickly."

James' attuned focus comes from years of nourishment the department offers.

"Each student responds differently to the same material, so we tune into each student differently," Gabara said.

James said his instructors treat everything as if it were a profession.

Still, Gabara gives 100 percent of his attention to his actors.

"If he ever says anything about his accomplishments it is to say that we can achieve too," said James, who said Gabara has been successful from Europe to Canada to New York.

James' theater skills have become sharper since his freshman year through practice.

"Junior and seniors have the ability to transform themselves completely," Alby said, a lecturer of theater. "They have to be able to think like a gymnast."

Training evolves over time from a freshman with a single polished monologue to a senior hitting accents and inflections from all characters.

"Training is crucial. We're not contesting the heart or desire to theater," Gabara said. "Training needs to break the barriers that go against society."

Teaching becomes delicate when trying to develop a confidence with each student, even when all they have is a desire to learn but no learned discipline.

"As a teacher, we have a huge responsibility with their vulnerability," Gabara said. "Here, we have to talk to the soul as much as the brain. There's no other way."

The Department of Theater is not divided into concentrations, so after four years a student can do more than just identify himself or herself as an actor.

"You touch everything," James said. "We learn all aspects of what you could be involved in professionally."

From the set designers to the make up crew, many unnamed people go into shows that are not seen.

The actors may get the face work, but when they succeed the cast shares the reward, he added.

The source material Gabara and the department use must be proven.

They choose classics and new classics that provide more than entertainment elements.

"Theater is collective of great minds. Genius directors, actors and writers," Gabara said.

Being in the theatre is his way of understanding himself and he's still ‘on search,' he said.

"The play is still something alive," he said. "The meaning of life can not be taught in dogma or definitions."

"The Doctor in Spite of Himself" is a farce comedy about an alcoholic woodcutter who is mistaken for a doctor.

"The play underlies absurdities of some human actions while making fun of human shortcomings," Gabara said.

He likened it to buying a car. "When you really want something, you're ready to buy anything and you could end up with a lemon easy," he said.

James said the plot is like a rumor.

"When you hear it so many times you start to believe your ears," he said.

James said a future in the theater is coming and he is not discouraged.

"I feel I can excel most and I have a drive to excel in this," he said of theater.

Acting on the stage requires trust in the other actors.

He said there are some actors and actresses he fights with; not for the limelight, but how much they can embody characters.

It is that kind of teamwork that sets James' frame of mind right every night he is on stage.

"I'm someone else when I step onstage," he said. "I let myself be taken over by the character."

"It's like I hear the line for the first time with each performance," he said. "Finding a character is an ongoing process to make him complete."

-"The Doctor in Spite of Himself" will first be performed Monday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and will continue through Sunday.

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