The Good Doctor
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by John Malone
At the Winthrop House JCR
Through this weekend
THE Good Doctor is not a great Neil Simon play, but it is an enjoyable one. The Winthrop House presentation proves a five production of this entertaining play.
Doctor is a collection of 10 short vignettes all performed by the same five-member cast. Each scene stands on its own, but the play is held together to some extent by a series of introductions by a character known as The Writer (Josh Frost). The Writer is composing each of the segments of the play, and he stops throughout to explain his writing and himself to the audience. As might be expected, The Writer represents Simon himself. But Simon does a good job of keeping himself in the background of the play, and Doctor benefits greatly from Simon's restraint.
All the action in Doctor is set in Russia, as in Simon's Fools. But if it weren't for actor John Byrd's accent (in the role of Cherdyakov in the sketch "The Sneeze") or the fact that all the money is expressed in rubles, you might miss this detail.
Because no vignette is longer than about 10 minutes, there is little time for characters or plot to develop. What remains is a series of theatrical one-liners--a puff pastry of a play.
But what a tasty pastry it is. The cast is fun to watch. Because each member of the ensemble has to act out several different parts, such a play lives or dies by the quality and enthusiasm of its cast. And these actors are not only competent, but they also obviously enjoy putting on this play.
THE star of the play is Byrd, who steals every scene in which he appears. Byrd is talented at assuming accents (in fact, he is the only member of the cast who attempts to do so), though perhaps he is stretching his talents in giving a Russian tramp a British cockney accent in the sketch "A Drowned Man." Byrd has a certain comic flair which radiates through all his roles and makes watching him particularly enjoyable.
Ginna Carter is perhaps the best actor of the bunch. Her characters are all very distinct, and Carter seems as adept at playing a prim governess as a prostitute.
The other female member of the cast, Sandra Vinton (who starred in a production of Simon's Fools last spring), is less skillful at conveying the emotions of her characters. Most of her roles seem to blend together, and her characterization of a 19-year-old boy in "The Arrangement" is not credible. But Vinton brings a fantastic amount of energy to her part of "A Defenseless Creature," and she does have a wonderful stage presence, seeming to draw the spotlight even in scenes where she plays only a minor part (as in "The Sneeze").
JOSH Frost and Lukas Oberhuber also give good performances, though Oberhuber does tend to talk in a monotone, and Frost seems to be imitating Jason Robards.
The cast gets a lot of good material to work with. "The Sneeze," "The Seduction" and "A Defenseless Creature" are the highlights of the show. However, there are some lowpoints: "Too Late for Happiness" centers around an uninteresting song (which is, thank goodness, the only song in Doctor) which is out of reach of a non-musically inclined cast. "The Governess" is too long, and "The Arrangement" should never have been made.
But a generally fine cast makes the most of even the worst of the script, and there is a lot of very funny material here as well. Overall, The Good Doctor is well-written and well-performed. It is a funny, light comedy that should please everyone. If you're bored this weekend, you can find your cure in Simon's theater of operations.