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LAUGHTER'S THEIR BEST MEDICINE // 'Doctors' cast has interesting practice

"It's a stylistic romp," says director Nancy Oliver. "Definitely eclectic," says Larry Francer.

"A musical melee," adds Richard Poole.

Don't listen to these people. They're blowing smoke. No one, least of all the director and her cast, is sure what will happen this week when Doctors and Diseases opens Playmakers' 1990 season at its cozy second-stage space, The Wild Side.

The musical revue by Peter Ekstrom has been around for a decade, since it was commissioned by Jon Jory, artistic director for the Actors Theater of Louisville. It is best to look at Doctors and Diseases as a melange of music and satire about health and medical issues.

To make any further presumptions about the Playmakers' production is to invite confusion. Oliver and her three-member cast are, in essence, making it up as they go along.

"It's still taking shape," says Angela Angel, who along with Poole and Francer will romp through 90 minutes of music and comedy with minimal props and costumes.

"It's pretty episodic," says Oliver, the Sarasota playwright and

director. "We're trying something different with this. Certain parts of the show hang together and lead into something else. There is a sort of through-line in there, the Doctors and Diseases theme.

"If things go as I hope they will, the people in the audience won't quite know what to expect."

Doctors and Diseases is basically a collection of songs and lyrics by Ekstrom.

"It's been done in different forms in the past, but Ekstrom wasn't happy with it," Oliver says. "This is just another try at it. There has been extensive editing, but I don't mess with his words or the music too much."

Ekstrom's revue addresses issues such as mortality, morality, professional ethics, the responsibility of doctor and patient. You know, standard musical comedy stuff.

The material ranges from black humor to farce to seriousness, according to Poole.

"Yeah, sometimes it isn't funny at all," he says. "It's the kind of thing that when you laugh at something, you don't know if it's because it's funny or whether it's release of your anxiety. Laughter can be so many things."

Ekstrom's songs include: The Human Body Is a Most Amazing Thing, The Medicine Man Blues, There's Nothing Wrong, Jesus Is My Doctor, Private Practice and I Hope I Never Get . . .

Oliver and company haven't added music, but she is writing transition material for scene changes.

"I try to let it take as much time as possible so that it grows until the first performance," Oliver says. "It's constantly changing 'til then. It'll take every minute of (rehearsal) to put it together."

From a production standpoint, Doctors and Diseases will be ultra-basic. But Oliver hopes that her ensemble mind-meld concept will enable the audience to ignore the no-frills show.

She is relying on her young but gifted cast for ideas, and they've had a few. Which is why nothing in this show is written in plaster, you might say.

"There's a general outline in my head, a feel," Oliver says. "But it's not something you impose on it. It's something you find as you're working."

The director has an appealing group to work with. Poole, a native of Austin, Texas, spent 15 months with the national touring company of Les Miserables, and last September took over the role of heroic Jean Valjean in that high-tech musical. Before that, Poole toured in Cats and Evita.

"I read about the auditions (for this show) in Creative Loafing and I thought, 'Hmm, that would be an interesting departure.' I was so used to doing cookie-cutter productions of Broadway musicals, where you don't get a chance to do anything that hasn't been done before.

"This is a whole different mental process. There's a lot of give and take," he said.

Like director Oliver, Francer hails from Boston. He has plenty of credits in stage musicals, many of them on the dinner-theater circuit.

He appeared in the movie Ernest Saves Christmas, and has a "recurring nerd" role in the Superboy TV series.

Angel, a Chicago native, is a graduate of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theater Training and has appeared in more than 20 musical productions in Florida. She also has been stage manager for Playmakers' mainstage and Wild Side productions, such as Woman in Mind and Drinking in America.

Oliver has been a Floridian since '76, attended Florida State University graduate school, and was part of the General Nonsense Theater Company in Sarasota. Her plays include Slow Night, Office and Social Life.

"Generally, I write and direct together," she says. "This is the last stage of writing for me. I've gotta hear it in my head, kind of move it around on stage and put it all together before I know if the writing works."

This weekend, we'll know.

Eclectically revealing zany thoughts of Doctors and Diseases are, from top, Larry Francer, Richard Poole and Angela Angel.

THEATER PREVIEW Doctors and Diseases Music & lyrics: Peter Ekstrom Direction and additional material: Nancy Oliver Cast: Richard Poole, Angela Angel, Larry Francer Musical director/accompanist: Lori Surrency Lighting: Ken Kaczynski Stage management: Russell Warner Presented through March 11 at The Wild Side by Playmakers at the Ritz, Seventh Avenue E and 15th Street, Ybor City, Tampa. Performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are $10. Call 247-PLAY.