Saturday, July 16, 2011

InDepenDent Sketches from Chekhov By Beverly Creasey

For their last production, the InDepenDent Drama Society presents Chekhov, by way of Neil Simon in THE GOOD DOCTOR (playing through July 23rd) The American master of comedy turned his eye on Chekhov’s early comic sketches for his eight part tribute to the playwright/doctor who famously said all his plays were comedies!

A few mispronounced Russian names aside, the InDepenDent folks are on target, giving the mini-dramas just the right 19th century stylization. Director Christine Toohey creates a robust Russian feel for the stories, many of which are set in winter. Pity the brave actors who sally forth under layer upon layer of vests, corsets, petticoats, bustles, overcoats and military uniforms in the sweltering heat of the tiny Factory Theater space. (Note to playgoers: Bring frozen bottles of water to cool your neck and slake your thirst as they thaw because it’s hot as hell in the audience, too.)

Bob Mussett as The Writer serves as our affable host, commentator and narrator. Simon has him address us as if he were Chekhov, despairing that people find his work “clever and charming” and little more (a charge leveled frequently at Simon). Mussett is suave and “charming” (Sorry!) and immensely amusing as the unifying element that holds the stories together.

The sketches vary in tenor, from physical comedy to political satire to psychological intrigue. My favorite is the ingenious tale of the “seducer of other men’s wives.” Zach Eisenstat is nothing short of brilliant as the cocksure Don Juan, methodically setting his cap for the exquisitely elegant Sarah Gazdowicz. He is certain that she will hurl herself at his feet but will she? Gazdowicz is equally impressive, slowly succumbing to the flattery repeated by, of all people, her husband (Chris Larson), completely unaware that he is the unwitting go-between. THE SEDUCTION is marvelously “clever” (Sorry, again) and deftly executed with a lovely surprise to boot.

THE SNEEZE is vintage Chekhov (with a little Gogol thrown in). Brian Tuttle is marvelously smarmy as the toady who can’t leave well enough alone. Melissa DeJesus and Kate Daley make THE GOVERNESS resonate chills and Mark Estano masters the pratfall in A DEFENSELESS CREATURE, with Victoria Townsend as his pursuer. Chris Anton and Mark Estano, likewise give merry chase in SURGERY.

In the spirit of THE GOOD DOCTOR, I offer an alternate ending. A cold front hits New England and the rest of the summer cools to a comfortable 72 degrees. IF ONLY.