Shotgun Players’ ‘Quack’ is complex portrayal of modern controversies

Shotgun Players./Courtesy

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Shotgun Players’ production of “Quack,” occurring over Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic, is a view of “cancel culture” in modern society. 

The play centers on a controversy in which a television doctor, Dr. Baer (David Boyll), whose platform is similar to that of Dr. Oz, is criticized after a measles outbreak at a library kills unvaccinated children. When a reporter finds out the children weren’t vaccinated because of advice their parents heard on Baer’s show, his career is soon put in danger. Baer’s inability to take responsibility for his promotion of the anti-vaccination movement soon spirals out of control, leading to the downfall of his show and personal life, and sparking a desire for revenge.

Written after the 2016 presidential election, playwright Eliza Clark’s work is a multifaceted story that depicts a wide array of modern controversies, touching on the anti-vaccination movement as well as “cancel culture,” workplace dynamics, the pervasiveness of diet culture and the rise of misogyny in online spaces. Clark excellently shows the complicity of all the women that assist Baer with his wrongdoings, including his assistant Kelly (Joyce Domanico-Huh) and his wife (Hilary Hesse), as they both benefit from his success and become collateral damage in the fallout of his public takedown. Domanico-Huh shines as Kelly, showing both anxiety and strength in her character. Additionally, Hesse is excellent as Baer’s wife, the incredibly sharp-tongued Meredith. These performances make for interesting scenes between the two women as the story unfolds. 

Boyll also greatly excels, showcasing Baer’s public plight as his pure narcissism descends into obsession and he becomes desperate to preserve his reputation and career, teaming up with alt-right internet personality Brock Silver (Chris Ginesi). Baer reeks of toxic masculinity and entitlement, a facet Boyll portrays with ease, especially in his scenes with Ginesi’s Brock. While it is easy to villainize Brock or dismiss him as an absurd caricature of alt-right online leaders, his character is heavily based in truth, and his personality speaks to the current political landscape in which some men seem to believe they are victims of female oppression. Ginesi brings humanity to Brock’s character, but not enough so that the audience is tempted to sympathize with him. Leigh Rondon-Davis’ portrayal of River, the reporter who uncovers Baer’s role in the promotion of the anti-vaccination movement, is incredibly complex as well, depicting the harmful effects of fatphobia and diet culture on American society as well as the scrutiny that comes from daring to go after a powerful man. 

Overall, none of these characters remain the hero of the story. At some point, they are all guilty of scheming and wrongdoing in order to further their own personal agendas. However, the individual characters’ ambiguity is the show’s best asset — each character has something both admirable and despicable about them, proving that controversies aren’t simply black and white. The play asserts that a situation in which those who perpetrate and engage in misconduct, even if it isn’t their own, are at fault. While the characters themselves can be seen as unempathetic to one another’s struggles, thankfully the actors themselves are not, as they give much depth to the narrative Clark provides.

The production’s Zoom format, while having minor technical issues, allowed for the actors to still engage with one another in the comfort of their own spaces, keeping the production engaging and the actors safe. The actors would pass papers to one another and act as if they were in the same room, adding a sense of realism to what otherwise is depicted on screens instead of onstage. 

Ultimately, “Quack” is a well-written, complex story of modern celebrity, cancel culture and problematic online engagement, culminating in a narrative that is engaging in both its absurdity and similarity to real-life events. “Quack” provides somewhat of a blueprint for why we should never worship anyone we see on television, as we have no idea what kind of person they are behind the curtain.

Contact Caitlin Keller at [email protected].