Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Good Doctor

‘THE GOOD DOCTOR’: Simon meets Chekov at Ensemble

Neil Simon, the king of American theatre comedy, is referred to as “Doc” because he is often called in to “cure” (doctor), scripts that just don’t seem to be ready for public acceptance. Anton Chekov, the well-known modern Russian playwright, is also known as doctor. But, in his case, he actually has a medical degree.

‘THE GOOD DOCTOR,’ now being staged by Ensemble, has the distinction of having been written by both of the doctors. Chekov wrote the original skits and stories, Simon glued them together and adapted them for the American stage.

‘THE GOOD DOCTOR’ is set in Russia during the 19th century. It is composed of a series of scenes in which the connecting thread is The Writer, who is obviously Chekhov. Topics covered include a sneeze, two old people who question whether it is too late for life, a non-assertive governess, the greatest seducer of other men's wives, the drowner, the inexperienced dental assistant, the con-artist, a woman at an audition, and a father taking his son to a prostitute so he can “become a man.”

Simon writes as Chekov, using Russian references and the verbal style that has made the Russian so identifiable.

The play, which is not often produced, opened on Broadway in 1973 to mixed reviews. A television movie was made with Edward Asner, Richard Chamberlin and Marcia Mason, Simon’s second wife, who he met during the making of the TV show.

The Ensemble production, under Jacqi Loewy’s direction, is pleasant. There are some hysterical moments and some that don’t quite develop. The problem is not Loewy’s. It is a combination of some of the material not being as good as other segments and some weak acting.
John Busser is wonderful as The Writer. He has a mobile face, changes his tone and body posture for each person he portrays, and has fun when fun is needed, and a serious tone when that is paramount.

Both Bernard Canepari and Dorothy Canepari are generally excellent. The former is hysterical in a scene in the dentist’s office, while the latter is a sheer delight as “the defenseless creature” who is the queen of the con artists.

On the other hand, Jon Gellott doesn’t have the acting maturity to carry the multiple roles that have been cast at him and Eileen Canepari is inconsistent in her interpretations.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE GOOD DOCTOR’ is a pleasant, but not captivating evening of theatre.