Writers rule unequivocally, even when feigning writer's block this week at the Monomoy Theater when Neil Simon, Anton Chekhov, and Bernard Cornwell share the story-telling professions in the heart-warming comedy "The Good Doctor."
The Monomoy Theater Company transports the audience to a 1910 theater in the Russian countryside
where the cast re-enacts 11 of Chekhov's lyrical and laconic short stories. "The Good Doctor" is another must-see before this summer season ends next week. Funny, sweet, profound, sincere, keenly felt, a genuine satisfying evening of live theater.
Neil Simon, now 90 and living in the Bronx, penned "the Good Doctor" in 1973 as a tribute to Chekhov
after the sudden passing of his first wife, a reflective work on his humble NYC beginnings and at his time of sadness as a widower. Simon met his second wife, Marsha Mason, during auditions for this play.
Bernard Cornwell, Chatham's esteemed best-selling author, stars as the writer-narrator to Chekhov's tales tinged with Simon's heart-warming and comical lines. He is quite at ease on the stage, speaking eye to eye with the audience or playing the writer in various skits.
As Cornwell introduces the show in story one, "The Writer," one feels he is speaking from his own heart. "I have no choice, I am a writer...Even my good wife (Judy Cornwell was in the audience) tiptoes to my
door, leaving the meal tray. Excuse me, an idea is coming!"
Wolfe Lanier (Cherdyakov) and Mary Berthelsen (Wife) are hysterically funny in "The Sneeze," an anatomical accident that happens to the Minister of Public Works, General Brassilhov (Gregory Rodriguez) and his wife Madame Brassilhov (Olivia Fenton). Can you sneeze on your superior? Lanier is a terrific comic actor while
Rodriguez' voice and stature speak in regal operatic stature. Berthelsen and Fenton play with wifely worrisome anxiety.
Nicholas Dana Rylands plays the prayerful town Sexton who is aching in pain in "Surgery." There is lots of slapstick as the young dental student Kuryatin (Lanier) is stirred to action for his very first tooth extraction. The good doctor gets the laughs blowing into the Sexton's sore tooth-exposed nerve while he recites prayers of penance. We feel for Ryland's soulful Sexton in complete agony.
Berthelsen hit a tender note with several women audience members playing the senior citizen widow who meets a widower "as old as the sea." Lovely singing with the dashing old man played by Rodriguez whose duet "Too Late for Happiness" was poignantly told.
Gavin McNicholl is a hoot as handsome Peter who thrives on conniving for another man's wife in "The Seduction." McNicholl punctuates his lines with huge leg kicks while speaking directly to the audience on what a clever con man he is. Fenton perfectly expresses her innocent passions as a wife in a comfortable marriage. What a sin for her to be just a housewife! Rylands is the overly confident husband who falls prey to Peter's game.
Cornwell introduces Act Two with Chekhov's prayer as a professional writer, "Dear Lord, how about an idea for a new story?"
"The Drowned Man," "The Audition," "The Arrangement," "The Writer," and two surprise Army and Navy veterans conclude the two hours of enjoyable fireside stories in "The Quiet War."
Braden Hooter's Russian countryside scenic designs are breathtakingly exquisite. Ethan Jones beautifully changing palette of colorful pastel lighting marks day into night, change of seasons and indoor-outdoor sitting areas. Alison Pugh's original period costuming defines the elegant upper and plain lower classes of Chekhov's greatly
loved Russian friends, colleagues, and in my humble opinion, customers at his father's grocery store.
Did I mention "A Defenseless Creature," or how a poor peasant woman outsmarted the slick banker and his assistant? Weak defenseless women? Saving the best for last in my review. Outstanding comedic acting for Berthelsen as the woman, Rodriguez are the banker and Lanier as his assistant.
“The Good Doctor”
At Monomoy Theatre
Through Aug. 19
Information and reservations: 508-945-1589