Review: New Jewish Theatre Transforms 'The Good Doctor' From Meh to Magic
Anton Chekhov, known for literary stage classics like “Uncle Vanya,” “The Cherry Orchard” and “The Three Sisters,” is also widely regarded as one of the greatest short story writers in history. Several of those stories were turned into a play by Neil Simon to create “The Good Doctor,” presented by New Jewish Theatre to kick off their 2013-14 season. It’s not your typical Neil Simon piece, whose contribution is more as organizer than playwright. Fortunately, Chekhov never needed Neil Simon’s help, and apparently, neither does New Jewish. The well-acted, superbly directed, lit and costumed play—a series of eight vignettes with five actors playing multiple roles—makes for an enjoyable and intriguing evening of theater.
Set in the latter part of 19th century Russia, the audience is guided through the eight vignettes by a narrator—presumably Chekhov himself—portrayed by an assured David Wassilak, who actually bears a strong resemblance to the Russian writer. He also joins in on “The Seduction,” as a charming and resolute rogue who seduces only married women. His target is portrayed by Alina Volobuyeva—prim, proper and desirable—who despite her protestations, can’t help but fall victim to the rogue’s pursuits. Volobuyeva shines also in “The Governness” as the meek and demure title character opposite Teresa Doggett.
Dogget really shines in “A Defenseless Creature” as a creature who is anything but defenseless. She harangues hapless bank officer Jason Grubbe, whose incredulous and abused character along with Dogget’s persistence adds a humorous punch to the show, and Grubbe does so again as a priest with a toothache opposite Aaron Orion Baker as the inexperienced dentist-in-training. Baker does an excellent job with all of his many characters, bringing full characterizations to each in both interpretation and physicality. Work that generally earns a performer the honorific, “an actor’s actor.”
Bobby Miller’s direction is smooth and flawless, effectively utilizing every bit of Dunsi Dai’s excellent set with its starry backdrop and second level, used to perfection by Miller in a scene as a dock where Baker plies his trade as a drowning victim impersonator. Good lights by Maureen Berry define each performance area, and the period costumes by designer Michele Friedman Siler are delightful.
If Neil Simon added little to Chekhov’s work when he cobbled together “The Good Doctor,” the New Jewish Theatre picks up the slack with their expansive and lively production.
“The Good Doctor” continues through October 20. For tickets and information, visit the New Jewish Theatre website.