Dr. Knock, or The Triumph of Medicine
Romains, Jules, Kaikkonnen, Gus
- Henderson, Schuyler
- Date of entry: Jun-05-2010
- Last revised: Jun-03-2010
This annotation is based upon the version presented at The Mint Theatre in New York City in 2010, translated and directed by Gus Kaikkonnen. It featured Thomas M. Hammond as Dr Knock and Patrick Husted as Dr Parpalaid, with Chris Mixon, Scott Barrow, and Patti Perkins in supporting roles.
A middle-aged but recently licensed physician, one Dr Knock, has arrived in rural France to take over a practice purchased from the genial old country doctor, Dr Paraplaid. Much to Dr Knock's surprise, he discovers that Dr Paraplaid has done very little over the past three decades, seeing only a few patients a week and enjoying much of the time playing pool, riding around in his jalopy, and admiring the countryside. Feeling slightly cheated, Dr Knock realizes that the practice he has purchased at some expense amounts to very little at all. He is, however, an ambitious man. He did not become a licensed physician in the eager flush of late adolescence but as a man of the world, or rather, a man of the entreprenurial modern world where opportunities are seized and technology is transformative.
Once Dr Paraplaid has gone, Dr Knock promptly sets about employing the town crier to advertise his practice so that the entire valley knows he is there. He meets up with the local school teacher and the pharmacist, enlisting them as allies. With everybody he encounters, he smilingly and then sharply insists that unlike Dr Paraplaid, he will not go by "Monsieur" but by "Doctor". And when he actually opens the office, he begins by offering free consultations. Of course, he always seems to find something wrong, elaborately explaining the aches, pains, and illnesses he discovers (or induces), but the free consultations, like free "samples" are designed to create grateful customers. Invariably, they learn that the cost of the treatment is commensurate with the exact maximum amount they could pay. And thus, Dr Knock takes a placid, lazy practice and builds up an expanding medical business.
Romains, Jules. Knock. Translated from the French by James B. Gidney. Great Neck, N.Y., Barron's Educational Series: 1962.
This lively comedy from 1923 remains famous in France and has been produced with good notices in the United Kingdom, but had not been revived in New York since 1928. And yet, as many reviewers of this production have written, it seems to be written for a contemporary audience (which is just what the reviewers in the UK said when it was revived there in the 1990s and then again in the 2000s). Its incisive portrayal of the intersection of commerce, technology, modernisation, and medicine retains an enduring comic appeal as something familiar and pernicious.
On the surface, the story is about how a genial old country doctor who didn't do much but didn't hurt much either is replaced by a calculating medical profiteer, whose success comes as much from an ability to awe and silence his patients with his sharp tongue, a sharper glance, and scientific terminology as it does from his attention to advertising, networking, and image. What gives the play a depth is a certain ambiguity. Romains refuses to sentimentalize Dr Paraplaid; Dr Paraplaid may be likable and old-fashioned in radiating comforting fatalism and a confidence-inspiring self-satisfaction, but he is also a bit of a con-man himself, coasting into relative wealth without ever exerting himself. Similarly, in productions like the Mint Theater's, it is possible to see how Romains does not turn Dr Knock into a caricature or a monster, but brings to life the stirrings of something more penetrating and more pervasive than simple medical commercialisation: the flourishing of the Public Health apparatus and the medicalisation of life.