If you want to play an evil genius, you have to master the muwahahaha. Without an evil laugh you are just another run-of-the-mill bad guy.
In his over-the-top portrayal of a power-mad dean, second-year HMS student Ben Smith nailed the muwahahaha to comic effect in the 106th presentation of the HMS Second Year Show, which traditionally pokes fun at medical school faculty in a no-holds-barred fashion.
This year was no exception. The students' villain in the theatrical spoof “Publish or Perish: The Dark Dean Rises,” was Jules Dienstag, the Carl W. Walter Professor of Medicine and dean for medical education, which was performed Nov. 30–Dec. 1 at Roxbury Community College.
As the play begins, Dienstag fantasizes about his big opportunity for advancement when his boss, Dean Jeffrey Flier, dean of the faculty of medicine, portrayed by David Fischer, lets on that he is taking a vacation while contemplating his retirement.
Unfortunately for the ambitious Dienstag, Flier points out Dienstag’s lack of an impressive list of publications. Enlisting the aid of first-year course manager Evan Sanders, Dienstag plots to force all first-year students to work in labs to further his own research.
With Patrick Connor Johnson in the role, Sanders is a slick and ready schemer who is quick on his feet and resourceful, too. Sanders, we learn, has obtained a fast-acting mind-control drug. Muwahahaha!
With that as prologue, professor Richard Schwartzstein (Michael Hadley) and other members of the faculty “welcome” the newly arrived first-year students to HMS. In the first of nine songs, Schwartzstein, along with HMS professors Richard Mitchell (Jordan Garcia), Barbara “Babs” Fullerton (Sydnee Chavis), David Altshuler (Andrew Stamm), Joel Hirschhorn (Alvin Chen) and Nancy Oriol (Alex Harsha) each give reasons why “It Sucks to be Me,” based on a tune from the musical “Avenue Q.”
Three of the new students refuse to be discouraged. Olivia, Carly and Jacob (Jacqueline Boehme, Sarrah Shahawy and Charles Liu) are excited to be at HMS. In a running gag throughout the play, all the students eagerly await the appearance of professor Paul Farmer, clearly a superstar in their eyes. They are also looking forward to learning from legendary professor Randy King (William Wesley Brown). Even the other faculty members acknowledge King’s popularity, singing in the next musical number,“We’re Takin’ Our Cues from Randy.”
But wait! Sanders slips his mind-control drug into Randy’s Snapple. Soon, the first-year students are shocked to hear that Randy is assigning them all to basic science labs, working in sweatshop conditions to further Dienstag’s publication quest.
The plot thickens when romance is introduced in the steamy duet “Examine Me,” sung by Olivia and Jacob. Then, in the following tune, “You’re just in Love,” we learn that Carly has fallen for Sanders. Will the henchman be turned from his evil allegiance?
Before we find out, there are dance numbers and video segments to keep us wondering what else is up. The mystery of some missing dental students turns out to be a red herring, as seen in Harvard Dental Style, a send-up of the hit YouTube video “Gangnam Style,” by South Korean musician PSY.
Directed, shot and edited by Miguel Ortiz and performed by Bishoy Habib, the video fills the screen with dentist dancers, choreographed by Sara Chen and Demyana Azer, extolling the advantages of dentistry over medicine:
Make my tee time in my private charter in the air
I’m working 9 to 5 while you’re on call.
Does that seem fair?
Back on stage, Dienstag, in his big solo number, “The Good Old Days,” wistfully recalls a time when medical students weren’t pampered:
“I’d sit in my deanery
Contemplating forms of meanery.
They’d come to my office pleading
Telling me they weren’t succeeding.
‘Cause I would crush them like bugs.
If any of them needed hugs.
Those were the good old days.”
Dienstag is confident in his dastardly plan. Thanks to the mind-numbing lab work performed by the first-year drones, he has published dozens of papers, enough to be named the next dean. And if that isn’t enough, he still has Sanders and his potion to bend everyone to his will.
Like most showbiz villians, however, he doesn’t succeed. That’s because, smitten with Carly, Sanders goes over to the good guys, and, absent the drugged Snapple, Dienstag is denied his deanship. Chaos erupts, to be quieted only by the unexpected but timely return of Dean Flier.
Flier, tanned and dressed in Hawaiian beachwear, with beach ball and arm floaties, announces that he won’t retire after all. With that, the entire cast joins in a musical finale, to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
The challenge of managing the production’s moving parts fell to co-directors Zoe Shtasel-Gottlieb and Sydnee Chavis, who each contributed by writing and acting.
Diana Wohler, the show’s producer, ably managed every other detail, large and small. A self-described “theater nerd” in high school, Wohler kept everyone and everything on schedule—and she made sure that Carla Fujimoto and the entire Office of Student Affairs was acknowledged for providing “constant hugs, smiles and guidance.”
Hugs, smiles and guidance. For students who parody the deans and the faculty in song and dance? That sounds like something an evil genius might do. Muwahahaha!