The Good Doctor by Neil SimonWestern Australian Academy of Performing Arts
Director's Program Notes
Written in 1972 shortly after the painful loss of his first wife, Neil Simon adapted seven Chekhovian short stories while adding two short sketches of his own in penning The Good Doctor. This marked a dramaturgical departure for Simon, in that heretofore he wrote in a lighthearted key marked by situation comedies replete with one-liners and slapstick humor. Indeed, this exaggerated—some might argue two-dimensional—approach to characterization came to define works such as The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, and Barefoot in the Park. In taking on Chekhov, however, he had to account for the Russian master’s tragicomic knack for merging farce with wistful, heartfelt irony. Moreover, Simon had to somehow embrace Chekhov’s ability to render human behavior with uncanny specificity, a trait that must be seen in the context of the socio-politics of late-19th Century Russia. Perhaps the Christian Science Monitor acknowledged the essence of this intriguing partnership in asserting Chekhov had been “Simonized” into a collection of vignettes “that ranges from farce to pathos.”
To be sure, the short stories Simon adapted were written during the early part of Chekhov’s career, when he was writing for humor magazines to put himself through medical school. Chekhov’s style actually lent to the farcical, Vaudevillian brilliance that Simon would master nearly a century later collaborating with the likes of Woody Allen and Mel Brooks on Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows. It was this experience that schooled the young Simon in his craft. Clearly, he has always had an impeccable knack for comedy and its manifestation in characters that are truthfully driven to achieve their objectives, thereby resulting in hysterics and humor. Whether the source is a domestic dispute between two roommates (Oscar and Felix) or a pair of former Vaudeville partners who never could get along offstage (The Sunshine Boys’ Al and Willie), Simon’s flair for comedy is not shallow silliness as some critics have professed, but—like Chekhov’s—is steeped in human nature, albeit in an exaggerated and physical manner. There are many ways in which their distinct comic styles coalesce, a point noted in The Wall Street Journal’s review of the Broadway premier of The Good Doctor, claiming that Simon seems to be “with an old friend,” thereby allowing the audience “to relax with Simon in a way that [it] could never before.” Thus, the muse for our production has been to strike a balance between the early writing styles of its authorial sources, Simon and Chekhov, both of whom, ironically, were recognized as doctors—Chekhov in the literal use of the title and Simon in the form of the nickname “Doc,” something he has been called since his boyhood.
Our production therefore endeavors to balance Chekhov’s humanism and sociopolitical themes in conjunction with Simon’s Vaudevillian comic style. As such, we have approached the acting with theatrical truthfulness; the characters, after all, don’t know they are in a comedy and if we were to blithely attempt being funny instead of honestly portraying the play’s stories, we would lose The Good Doctor’s wistful charm, its comic delightfulness, in short, its humor.
Cast & Design Team
- Set Design/Costume Design:
- Leaf Watson
- Lighting Design:
- Cameron Routley
Cast: Miranda Aitken, Anna Apps, Kate Betcher, Kieran Clancy-Lowe, Alexander Daly, Joel Davies, Sophia Forrest, Sarah Greenwood, Will McNeill, Elle Mickel, Rory O’Keefe, Emma O’Sullivan, George Pullar, Giuseppe Rotondella, Lachlan Ruffy, Brittany Santariga, Megan Smart