Neil Simon is America’s most prolific playwright. He’s a real crowd pleaser, so Hedgerow has made a great choice to close out the summer with THE GOOD DOCTOR, directed by Louis Lippa and starring Jared Reed. King of the snappy one-liners, Simon first hit Broadway in 1961 with the domestic comedy Come Blow Your Horn. Prior to that, Simon worked as a TV writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. It was there that he honed his skills at character creation. And the ones he invented for this piece are terrific.
THE GOOD DOCTOR is a bit of a departure for Simon. Written in 1972, Simon took his inspiration from several short stories by Russian author Anton Chekhov. In fact, bits of The Seagull and The Three Sisters are quoted in the play. Don’t expect his typical “rim shot” humor; this one is off the beaten path – with moments of wonderful tenderness as well. There’s also a great deal of tongue-in-cheek zaniness, don’t get me wrong. I must confess that I have both performed and directed the piece, so I have a fondness for it.
Lippa keeps the action moving and stages things very simply, yet cleverly, on a streamlined set by Zoran Kovcic. John Tiedeck does a great job of lighting the many pieces and Cathy Miglionico has created some terrific costumes that elicit turn of the century Russia wonderfully. The viewer is treated to 12 vignettes about life – and love – in the early 1900s. Initially we are introduced to the character of “The Writer,” our guide through the evening’s stories. Clearly he is both Simon’s and Chekhov’s alter ego. Jared Reed embodies this role with great panache and smoothly transitions into three other characters during the play. Reed has a wonderful way with language and found nuances that delighted my companion and I.
After the setup, we see “The Sneeze,” about a hapless low-level government worker who commits a major faux pas with his superior at the theatre one night. Shawn Yates is suitably obsequious as Cherdyakov, with wonderful support from Leeanne Rubin as his wife. Zoran Kovcic and Susan Wefel hit all the right notes as “The General “and his wife. Next up is, in my mind, the most difficult of the 12 playlets: “The Governess.” Rebecca Cureton handles the role of the overly submissive employee with aplomb. Maggie Farrell seems to thoroughly enjoy her turn as the stern – and cheap – mistress of the household. It is a tough scene to get the right balance for, and these two young actresses do a lovely job.
The third piece may not be as relatable to younger generations, as its premise is no longer a common occurrence… “The Surgery” relates the plight of a Sexton with a horrible toothache who has come for help, only to find he must be treated by his dentist’s underling, “a dentist-to-be.” Reed and Kovcic have a field day with this hilarious bit. The timing of the physical comedy was a little rough on opening night, but I am confident that will improve as the run progresses.
By far the most poignant portion of the play is next, “Too Late for Happiness.” We see an elderly lady and gent in a park. Each comes there alone every day. They sing of their reticence to reach out to the other and have companionship so late in life. Terry Gleason and Maggie Flynn will tug at your hearts.
“The Seduction” finishes out Act I. Reed assumes the role of Peter Semyonich – the Greatest Seducer of Other Men’s Wives and regales us with a demonstration of his techniques. We are even encouraged to take notes. Ms. Cureton is back as the victim – I mean object of his affections – and Kovcic plays her clueless husband. We are sent off to intermission chuckling at the interesting turn of events.
First up in Act II is “The Drowned Man.” I won’t tell you the plot of this one – I don’t want to spoil the fun. Yates appears as a denizen of the docks offering an unusual business proposition to The Writer who is suffering from severe writer’s block. And Dave Polgar gives a nice turn as a policeman towards the end of the piece. Then Ms. Cureton comes back for “The Audition” as a young actress who has walked all the way from Odessa to audition for the great Chekhov. It’s adorably funny and surprisingly touching.
Ms. Wefel and Mr. Kovcic return for “The Defenseless Creature,” one of my favorite bits in the play. Again, I don’t want to spoil the fun – you just have to see it. Veterans Kovcic and Wefel are in rare form as an ailing bank officer and a peasant woman who comes seeking help. Yates pops in for a funny turn as the bank officer’s assistant.
Next, James Cella (as Young Anton) and Nicole LaBonde (as a very friendly young girl) join Reed for “The Arrangement.” It’s about an unusual birthday gift from a father to his young son. You take it from there… Then Kovcic comes back to play “The Quiet War” with Reed. They play two acquaintances who meet weekly in the park for some verbal sparring matches. Both men bounce off each other marvelously, relishing the words and mining the laughs.
And finally, Reed closes out the evening as The Writer, summing up what he’s shared and his love of his craft – an apt ending for this company of actors who have shared the stage many times before. Hedgerow’s fine production of THE GOOD DOCTOR gives the viewer a fun evening of laughs to close out the summer with.
THE GOOD DOCTOR
by Neil Simon
Directed by Louis Lippa
August 25 – September 18, 2011
64 Rose Valley Road