A myriad of characters combine to explore life’s tragic comedy
It begins with a writer who is obsessed with his work. He feels compelled to spend all of his time writing. People think he’s mad, but really he’s harmless. He built his study with his bare hands, and though the room tends to slide because of the rain and the unfortunate tilt of the hill on which the room is built, he is content as long as he is writing.
And so the Tony Award-winning play by Neil Simon, “The Good Doctor,” begins. The play is a collection of comedic and touching moments that occur in the lives of the writer’s characters.
The play is a patchwork of seemingly unrelated stories that are narrated by a character simply called “the writer,” played by University student Braden Coucher. This lonely man, who is an implied mix between Anton Chekhov and Simon, creates scenes for the audience that touch upon the tragic comedy of life using unconventional and often unpredictable characters.
It’s a “behind-the-scenes look at a Russian vaudeville theater,” said the show’s director
Theresa Robbins Dudeck.
The show’s traditional period costuming, including large petticoats, corsets, bowler hats, and 19th-century men’s suits, helps to depict the vaudeville scene even further.
“It’s Simon’s tribute to Chekhov, but you can also see typical Simon in comedic timing and pairing,” she said. “They complement each other.”
At the dress rehearsal Tuesday night, the eight actors, all University students, played off each other as if they’d been living these characters for years. From the way Coucher danced gaily across the stage to pick up a fallen chair to the fluid way Jacob King fixed Craig Lamm’s fake mustache from falling off, it was clear that it wasn’t just the authors who complemented each other’s work.
Audience interaction is also a large part of the play, which brings out the vaudeville aspect that Dudeck was aiming for. Even with a small audience present at the dress rehearsal, the actors pulled a woman from her seat for a dance and threw a flower to another.
“They’re so ready for a real audience,” Dudeck said.
Interacting with the audience is one of University senior Ryan Primm’s favorite parts of the play.
“We make sure we’re making them laugh,” Primm said.
Primm has various roles in the scenes “Too Late for Happiness,” “Defenseless Creature,” “The Sneeze,” “The Surgery” and “The Drowned Man.”
He doesn’t have trouble switching from character to character and said he even finds it “amusing to go from one character to another, trying to make them as humanly different as possible.”
“The absurdity of life is what makes the play funny,” said Kathleen Leary, another actor in the play. “It adds American comedy to Chekhov’s.”
Leary, who is also a University senior and a theater arts major, plays an old woman in one scene and a loving, if unorthodox, wife in another. She sings in the only musical number of the play, “Too Late for Happiness,” in which two elderly people (Leary and Primm) meet in a park and exchange awkward conversation. They decide to meet for tea tomorrow, and they each leave the scene with an air of hope. Although there is no hint as to whether they’re actually going to meet, it’s left up to the audience to interpret.
“The Good Doctor” ends with the writer. He feels as if he has betrayed his friends by exploiting them as exaggerated characters. Still, he is happy. As the lights dim and only the writer is highlighted on a threadbare stage, he tries to recall what it was that, as a child, he dreamt of becoming. With a sheepish shrug he admits that he can’t remember, but that perhaps it doesn’t matter.
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