The Good Doctor | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

THE GOOD DOCTOR, Headstrong Theatre. There's a strange coupling here of Anton Chekhov, unblinkingly accurate in his observation of quirky mortals, and Broadway-savvy Neil Simon, ever ready to crush the truth with a punch line. It's as if the slick American jokester, who wrote this play based on Chekhov tales, were trying to camouflage his gagster's reflex under the Russian's more delicate sensibilities. Yet these stories make for vintage Simon, balancing broad farce with character comedy in scenes that are sometimes sardonic, sometimes sympathetic: a boy's abortive sexual initiation at a bordello, the terrible effects of an imprudent sneeze on a career, a lesson in seduction by proxy, a hilariously escalating quarrel between two pensioners.

Director William T. Buster (who plays the ever curious Chekhov, among other roles) is sometimes too slow to ignite the comedy and too broad even for Simon. But the play's fusion of psychological insight and laughter sometimes yields delightful results: Kenneth Craig's demented showbiz sailor (ready to "drown" on demand to please the public), Buster as a clerk undone by his own nose, Jan Graves as a considerate mistress, and the winning Christine Gatto as a starstruck hopeful from Odessa: her audition speech from The Three Sisters connects Chekhov's fiction to his drama. Period costumes might have stepped right out of the stories.

This Headstrong production inaugurates another new space, intriguingly located behind a vintage jewelry and costume shop in Edgewater. Chekhov would have been charmed. --Lawrence Bommer

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