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BWW Reviews: Prescription for Good SummerTheatre: Call Doc Simon

The Good Doctor

By Neil Simon; Directed by Christine Toohey; Stage Manager, Jeff Kubiatowicz; Production Manager, Chris Anton; Scenic Designer, Sean A. Coté; Lighting Designer, Matthew Breton; Sound Designer, Chris Larson; Properties Designer, Abigail Neuhoff; Fight Director, Mark Villanueva

CAST: Chris Anton, Kate Daly, Melissa DeJesus, Zach Eisenstat, Mark Estano, Sarah J. Gazdowicz, Sierra Kagen, Chris Larson, Bob Mussett, David N. Rogers, Victoria Townsend, Brian Tuttle

Performances through July 23 by The Independent Drama Society at The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston; For Tickets,

The Independent Drama Society is closing up shop on a high note after four years of producing theater on their own terms. In keeping with their collaborative nature, a team of twelve actors and actresses plays twenty three roles, assists the director, and works on the design side, as well. Director Christine Toohey selected Neil Simon's 1973 play The Good Doctor as the vehicle for IDS to ride into the sunset because it is a collaboration of sorts between Simon and the great Russian author Anton Chekhov. Eight short vignettes explore issues of status, class, and power in Chekhov's realistic style, but written with Simon's unmistakable intelligence and wit.

As the play opens in his study, The Writer (Bob Mussett as Simon's stand-in) addresses the audience to lay out the format and explain the lot of one in his profession. He reappears between the scenes to ease the transition from one tale to the next. Mussett is natural and comfortable in the role, an affable guide for our wanderings through the hazards of human foibles. He also participates as the off-stage voice in "The Audition" and as a father taking his teenage son for a visit with a prostitute to learn how to become a man in "The Arrangement."  

The stories in The Good Doctor are often more tragic than intrinsically comical, but the actors find humor in the characters they play and make their scenes funny by being true to the situation. Case in point, Mark Estano as an inexperienced medical student in "Surgery" tries to coax Chris Anton, suffering with a horrible toothache, into cooperating with his heavy-handed extraction technique. Or, Estano again in "A Defenseless Creature" plays a bank executive who is set upon by Victoria Townsend, a woman who won't take no for an answer, regardless of how inappropriate her requests or intransigent his refusals.

Kate Daly gives the most poignant performance as the title character in "The Governess," playing opposite Melissa deJesus, the Mistress from Hell who repeatedly takes unfair advantage of the younger woman's naïveté and goodness. In "The Seduction," Zach Eisenstat gives a primer on how to seduce another man's wife and makes a good attempt to seduce the women in the audience along the way. He shows his dramatic range when the object of his affection outsmarts him in the end.  Sara J. Gazdowicz travels an arc from a bored, disinterested acquaintance to a sexually-awakened, impassioned victim of his charms, eyes flashing and chest heaving with her desire for him. Playing the clueless husband about to become a cuckold, Chris Larson has a blasé demeanor and wears a bemused expression.

Larson assumes a decidedly different persona as a sailor/huckster looking to make a quick buck by faking his own demise in "The Drowned Man." Brian Tuttle as the mark is outraged at first, but gradually warms to the idea that it could be an exciting spectacle to observe. The story ends with a twist that is both tragic and amusing. Sierra Kagan tugs at the heartstrings as a young actress who has waited six months for her chance in "The Audition" and will not be daunted by a head cold and a high fever. Rounding out the ensemble, David N. Rogers is the sweet boy not quite ready to give up his childhood toys in "The Arrangement."

Toohey and the cast are immeasurably aided by the wonderful period costumes of Fabian Aguilar. His attention to detail is exquisite, and the bustles on the women's dresses deserve special mention. Scenic Designer Sean A. Coté and Properties Designer Abigail Neuhoff collaborate to suggest eight very different settings, and the actors also do duty as stagehands. Matthew Breton handles lighting and Chris Larson designs sound. The Fight Director is Mark Villanueva whose best creation is the knockdown, drag out tussle between dentist and patient in "Surgery."

Be aware that The Good Doctor is not the "one laugh after another" kind of Neil Simon play; rather, it is the first play of the rest of his life following the death of his first wife. Although it consists of a series of sketches, it contains a significant amount of drama and is more character driven by characters that are keenly observed. Of that, Simon is a master. Toohey and team IDS get inside of Simon's characters, give them a thorough examination, and put forth the results in consistent, fully-realized portrayals. I give them a clean bill of health and look forward to watching them germinate in other incubators around town. Break a leg, IDS!  

Photo credit: Bethany Krevat (Bob Mussett as The Writer)



From This Author - Nancy Grossman

From producing and starring in family holiday pageants as a child, to avid member of Broadway Across America and Show of the Month Club, Nancy has cultivated her love of the art and respect for the... (read more about this author)

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