Curtains: Copperstate Dinner Theater's Trust Me, I'm a Doctor

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Man, if I  had to choose between:

a. making a living in the arts by presenting plotless musical revues and exploitive, offensive, witless bedroom farces and
b. not making a living in the arts at all,

I'd probably sit up a lot with insomnia. To be fair, audiences who love this stuff skeeve me out way more than the programming itself does, and the hardworking, theater-lovin' Peter J. Hill and Noel Irick schedule a lot of other, better plays in each Copperstate Dinner Theater season as well. Not only that, Hill has written a brand-new farce, Trust Me, I'm a Doctor, and while still really dumb and somewhat exploitive and offensive, it's head and shoulders above most of its butt-pinching, warhorsey brethren.

Although the show's packed with plenty of silly jokes and sight gags and a prurient-yet-vanilla sexiness, it keeps audiences at a peculiar distance. Most "heroes" of farce are characters who wind up in sticky situations because of run-of-the-mill character flaws, such as being a stickler for propriety or a bit dim or blindly cocky. You can still see such a person as appealing or well-meaning or trapped in hilarious circumstances beyond his control, and sometimes he redeems himself at the end. Trust Me's Dr. David Berger, as written by Hill and played by Charlie LeSueur, is just a horrible little old horny man who doesn't appear to stand for anything. I found it impossible to root for him.

Perhaps we're supposed to see the clean-cut, respectable Nurse Dawkins (Chris Avila) as the actual long-suffering "hero," but he's introduced as the new guy in the office and isn't really funny or engaging enough to win us over. Jessica Godber makes her character, Sheila the bimbo receptionist, the realest and sweetest of all the ensemble. It's a genuine artistic achievement, but it doesn't protect her from having to remove her dress and become accidentally fastened to another actor, which is a staple of this genre.

More dresses and trousers fly off and on (you have to get the ladies down to their modest skivvies), and more people get stuck together like rutting dogs, as the plot unfolds. Hill puts some fun new twists on the standard mistaken identity bits and comes up with something extra to do with all those opening and closing doors. And instead of the standard police line, "Someone's apparently been killed; no one leave this room," we've got a CDC official barking, "Someone reported a biohazard; we're under quarantine." Very 21st-century.

Still, if you don't like to see whole classes of people stereotyped and/or made fun of for things other than the content of their character, this might not be the play for you -- unless you think it's merely true that unclothed fat people, say, are something not even paid medical professionals can bear to look at (and if that's the case, don't worry, as the fat person is only talked about and never appears), or that virtually every male nurse is gay.

Trust Me, I'm a Doctor continues through Sunday, August 16, at Copperstate Dinner Theater, 3801 East Washington Street (inside the greyhound park). Tickets are $39.95 and include dinner with a choice of entrees. (Funniest line of the night, in response to a server offering potatoes or rice: "But then why does the menu say it's a choice of starch?" Trust him; he's a waiter.) Call 602-279-3129 to make a reservation.

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