Neil Simon's tribute to Russian short-story writer, Anton Chekhov, was not popular when it hit Broadway in the early 70s. It is not the normal Simon fare and theater companies often don't attempt this show. Baldwinsville Theater Guild succeeds with a veteran cast, Anne Gray's period costumes and the expert direction of Jon Barden.
"The Good Doctor" is 10 short stories set in czarist Russia around the turn of the century.
Our tour guide is "The Writer," obsessed with his profession, but "not quite as good as Tolstoy or Turgenev." Mark Baker gives the writer (be it Simon or Chekhov) energy. He not only presents the stories, he often becomes a part of them. His presence and eye contact drive the entire show.
"The Sneeze" is the classic comedy of a theater patron (Chernikov, deftly portrayed by Cole Salo) sneezing "vociferously" on the person in front of him (an arrogant Jay Burris). We see the Russian class struggle between the aspiring peasant and the general, unwilling to let Chernikov into his social circle.
"The Governess" is sweetly played by BTG newcomer Camille Chace. Veteran actress Denise Ballou rules the roost in deducting every possible item from the governess' pay. Finally, the mistress confesses that the young lady is entitled to her full 80-ruble pay. She questions why the governess wasn't stronger in her protest, demanding her due.
What happens when the village dentist is out of town and his simple assistant is left to handle "Surgery?" Comedy rises to the forefront as the church sexton's pain makes everyone cringe. Salo painful portrayal equals veteran Josh Taylor's intensity as the student dentist trying to yank the huge tooth from the sexton's mouth.
A simple park bench is the setting for "Too Late for Happiness." The woman (Chace showing her versatility) sits reading a book as an older gentleman (Burris) comes by, striking up a conversation. The delightful duet departs from the comic tones, but does it beautifully. Chris April doubles as vocal coach and pianist for this offering. Burris and Chace sing well together and we see a future but not today.