The Best Medicine

Produced by Ensemble 113onstage2009, the best medicine


Written and Directed by Sarah Scanlon


Original Music by Sarah and Marty Scanlon

Dr. P almost hits the mark – but not quite

Welcome to a brand new theater group – ensemble 113 – a not-for-profit enterprise founded by Artistic Director Clayton Fox in association with Niles North Theatre alumni who are devoted to bringing ensemble-generated work to Chicago’s North Shore.

“Best Medicine, or the Prenormorous Tale of Dr. Proboscis,” their first production of the summer, illustrates both the best and the worst possibilities of ensemble work. At its best, an ensemble can offer originality and energy – which this troupe amply does. At its worst, an ensemble can pose too many ideas, which in turn may fragment a play. What this children’s production — mixing fairy tale, slapstick comedy and musical — projects in creativity is undercut by its lack of focus.

At least four plot threads begin (but are not necessarily unraveled) in the 50 minute production: a crashing space object digs a crater near Townsington; the village itself mysteriously becomes drab and colorless; a local yokel thinks the crater might be magically producing pennies, and a loquacious medicine man arrives to ply his wares. All is enhanced by Corey Lubowich’s clever scenic and costume design.

Shadow puppets, designed by Yonit Olshan, further the action as the Narrator (Benjamin Rosenthal) relates the story. Marty Dubin and Nathan Hakimi as the good doctor and his servant provide comedic moments as they spar with neat physical agility. Jessica Trier winsomely plays the little girl who is the first to lose her drab attire and come to life, and Marty Scanlon brings down the house as the embittered Old Man Townser. He provides virtually the only suspense of the evening when he attempts to swallow an obviously distasteful elixir.
While Sarah Scanlon’s play holds the germs of a more cohesive production, the drama definitely needs more work. The few songs are catchy, but they are too few.

This play has definite appeal to children – and was enjoyed in reverse age order of audience. The 5 year old in our party thought it splendid, the preteens were a little less sure, and this reviewer, at 74, was a bit more skeptical.

Somewhat Recommended

Ensemble 113 shows promise and is well worth watching. Their next production, “Brought to Life,” a ghost story which is described as adapting the most frightening stories from across the globe” is scheduled for July 31-August 1, 6-8, at the Music Institute of Chicago, 2008 Dempster, Evanston, IL Tickets $15 (or $10 for advance sales) .

Reviewed by Beverly Friend

McCracken Middle School, 8000 E Prairie Rd Skokie, IL, http://www.ensemble113.org, contact: info@ensemble113.org, tickets $5-12, Performances Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7:30, Sunday matinees at 3, through June 21.