A series of 10 Chekhovian anecdotes and episodes of varying length comprises Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor,” mounted by the St. John’s Players.
The chief character in the play is the author surrogate, the omnipresent Writer, who engages in direct audience address, confiding in the patrons and introducing, overseeing and commenting upon the comic and satirical mini-scenes.
On occasion, he also takes an active role, mingling and interacting as a character in his scenes.
Chekhov, or the Writer, is Jim Healey, played with ebullient geniality and admirable vocal clarity. I have known Healey theatrically for a good number of years — but I don’t believe I have seen or heard him as well-matched to a role as he is to this one.
The play can be performed by a handful of actors shuttling between miscellaneous parts.
But, with the aim of bringing on younger talent, the company sensibly buttresses four veteran actors (Healey, Doug Boyce, Lisa Hurd, Tolson Barrington) with a dozen younger actors, who take to Chekhov like fish to water.
Each of the mini-scenes is semi-descriptively titled: “The Sneeze” — at an inopportune time in a conversation between a timid civil servant (Justin Sellars) and an overbearing general (Boyce) and his snooty wife (Beth Sparkes-Dawe); “The Governess” — a demure and brow-beaten governess (radiant Brittany King) is being financially cheated by her pettyfogging employer (Lisa Hurd); “Surgery” — a dental procedure is performed on Boyce by an inexperienced medical student (Mike Vokey); “The Seduction” — of the wife of his best friend (Jana Gillis and Kody McGrath) is attempted by the worldly-wise Writer, accompanied by self-congratulatory asides and confidences to the audience.
After a 10-minute intermission, “The Good Doctor” resumes with “The Drowned Man” — a sailor-tramp (Josh Collier) volunteers to drown himself for three rubles; “The Audition” — of an ingenue actress (Shawna Reid) who has walked for four days to get there; “A Defenseless Creature” — (Stephanie Pippy — a great hit with the audience) as a big-voiced woman demanding a loan, without security, from a reluctant, gout-plagued banker (Barrington); “The Arrangement” — a father introducing his reluctant, teenage son (Evan Moffatt) to a lady of the night (Kim Fiander). And, finally, we return to the Writer alone, taking his authorial leave.
Performed with considerable relish and gusto, the play may not be world-shaking, and there is not much that is intellectually challenging on this theatrical menu, but it contains a goodly measure of good-humoured fun, which was well received on opening night by a small but appreciative audience, who doubtless also relished the evocative period costuming (managed by Raeanne Decker, Beth Sparkes-Dawe and Stephanie Pippy) and by Matthew Feener’s imaginatively focused and chiaroscuro lighting.
Directed by Louise Kearley for the St. John’s Players, this light-hearted rendering of Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor” continues until Sunday in the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the basement of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, with a curtain time of 8 p.m.
Running time, including intermission, is 135 minutes. So you are on your way home before 10:30.