The brevity of this review is not an adverse reflection on the quality of any aspect of this Arts Theatre production. The brevity is in fact intended as high praise for the production, the set and all of the performers in most of the pieces.
The production is of Neil Simon’s 1973 adaption of 11 of Dr Anton Chekhov’s short stories to comedic vignettes. We often overlook that Chekov was a medical practitioner who became one of the world’s most prolific short story writers and one of its most insightful and greatest dramatists. We should also recall that he classified most of his dramatic works as comedies.
Neil Simon is America’s most prolific and successful playwright. In addition to original screen plays, more Simon plays have found their way onto the silver screen than those of any other stage-writer, and his output for television is not inconsiderable. On the surface the most potent gift of this extraordinary talent is comedy hectic, heady and honed by his New York origins.
This production, seamlessly woven into a continuum by John Grey’s narrations as “The Writer”, revealed for this writer that the works of these two amazing talents are like mirror images. Chekhov is dark on the surface with the foolishness of his characters meandering just below. Simon’s comedy takes us white-water rafting on bubbling rivers of one-liners. But in every river there are rocks, and the outward humor of many of his characters masks their uncertainties and pain.
It seems pointless to plot-line 11 vignettes or to endeavor to detail who played whom in which. Under Norma Allen’s disciplined direction each of the six actors brings their multiple characters to individual life (with rare and not too damaging lapses from character to caricature from a couple).
Simon has shown due deference to the Russian Master and it is an evening worth a visit.
But before departing, let me pay homage to Una Hollingworth. Somewhere in my memorabilia is an “Oscarette”, a small wooden carved figure won about 1978 in the then Warana Drama Festival. The name of the play I now forget. Una’s set for the piece I never will, and I give much of the credit for the success of the production to it. Like her set for The Good Doctor, it was simple, compelling and a work of art in itself.