Buzzworks Theater Company returns with the often entertaining West Coast Premiere of Laura Jacqmin’s Dental Society Midwinter Meeting, and though the one-act comedy proves a hit-or-miss affair, I’d gladly take it over a January in Skokie, Illinois.
That’s where over 6000 Midwestern dentists have assembled at the local Marriott in hopes of a weekend of booze-fueled extramarital sex in between seminars on topics as not-so-fascinating as “Fluoride and Fluoridation: A History” and mandatory plenary addresses on “Combating Drug Addiction Among Dentists” and other such matters.
This year’s attendees have more than just dentistry and liquor on their minds, however, since word is out that the wife of society president Morris J. Morris, Jr. has recently caught her husband in flagrante delicto with his hygienist Nina. Worse still, Dr. Morris stands accused of having allowed the breast-implanted platinum blonde to perform advanced medical procedures (including extractions and root canals) without a license.
What transpires over the course of Dental Society Midwinter Meeting’s 75-or-so minutes is a series of vignettes featuring its cast of six in multiple, often unidentified roles, some funnier and/or more involving than others. These include:
• Three male dentists fantasizing about the women of their dreams while shopping for hunting vests at the local L.L. Bean
• A pair of swimsuit clad female dentists swiming laps as they discuss various Midwinter Meeting attendees before being interrupted by bikinied blonde Nina herself.
• A pair of inebriated dentists finding themselves increasingly hot for wild and passionate sex—if only one of them could figure out how to use her room key.
• A dentist attempting to cancel a contract with a dishonest home tooth-bleaching vendor only to find herself in way above her head.
• All six dentists letting loose at an evening of karaoke tributes to their chosen field sung into electric toothbrush mikes.
• And last but in fact least, Dr. Morris J. Morris, Jr. giving his much-anticipated closing speech … which we don’t get to hear because, as playwright Jacqmin has one of her characters tell us, it’s for “dentists only.” (It’s a cute moment, but one that some may find a ripoff.)
Since we observe but aren’t allowed to really know any of the above characters, it’s hard to hard to care about them or become invested in their stories, though on the plus side, Jacqmin’s writing displays a quirky sense of humor and an offbeat charm.
Dental Society Midwinter Meeting would work considerably less well without Craig Anton’s imaginative direction (stagey in the most ingenious sort of way) and the delightful performances of its cast of six: Sharmila Devar, Jon Gentry, Andrea Hutchman, Davey Johnson, Brad David Reed, and Deborah F. Reed playing Jacqmin-only-knows how many roles.
Gentry ends up the evening’s standout in a pair of scenes. First up is his manic diatribe on the necessity of (and frustrating lack of interest by patients in) flossing, a hilarious rant that will doubtless hit close to home for many. Later, in the play’s most emotionally engaging sequence, Gentry doffs shirt in an attempt to seduce the recently separated gay dentist played by an equally fine (Brad) Reed with an unexpected payoff.
Scenic designer Amanda Knehans’ unadorned set (a red upstage curtain, a Dental Society seal, and six stools) allows director Anton, lighting designer Derrick McDaniel, and our imaginations to take us to various locales, though an often dimly lit stage can prove lulling in the comedy’s less compelling sequences.
Costume designer Catherine Baumgardner provides each actor his or her requisite white dental jacket to wear over a single outfit each, the sole exception being as cleverly conceived a trio of “swimsuits” as this reviewer has seen. (No attempt is made to indicate character changes via costuming, and “platinum blonde” Nina is played brunette.) Peter Carlstedt’s nifty sound design gives us Marriott-appropriate musak and some terrific karaoke tracks. Kristin Bolinski is stage manager.
Dental Society Midwinter Meeting may well divide audiences depending on reactions to Jacqmin’s quirky sensibility. Some may love her kooky if mostly anonymous cast of characters. Others may find it hard to care. I find myself somewhat in the middle, but one thing is certain. Dental Society Midwinter Meeting beats an Illinois winter any day.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village.
June 26, 2014
Photos: Craig Anton