The Good Doctor

by 21cstories

Review of play ‘The Good Doctor’

Watching a classic master’s play is like listening to a soul stirring melody, an experience that moulds the recipient’s sensibilities toward what is most basic and human. Neil Simon’s ‘The Good Doctor’, based upon Anton Chekhov’s short stories (Chekhov was trained as a doctor), is one such enthralling experience. Directed by Salim Ghouse, the play is an ensemble of six short pieces that entertain and ennoble with their directness and focus on human frailties, eccentricities and simpleminded wisdom.

Human frailties

The first piece, ‘Sneeze’ (based on ‘The Death of a Government Clerk’ by Chekhov), is a tragic-comedy of a small officer, Ivan (Salim Ghouse), who sits in a theatre gazing through the opera glass, “at the acme of bliss”, as Chekhov writes in the original story. What brings him down from bliss to ruin in a matter of two days is his loud sneeze that accidently spatters the bald head of a high ranking official from a different ministry, who makes light of it and ignores the accident. The simpleminded Ivan, fearful and terrified, fails to understand the harmless nature of his act, and brings ruin upon himself. In this piece, the theatre scene, when the actors play the ‘audience’ of the opera, is most amusing, as it creates two sets of audience, one fake and one real, facing each other!

The Governess (based on ‘The Ninny’) is about a clever but sympathetic housewife (Garima Arora) who plays a trick on her meek and timid maid Yulia (Anita Salim) by deducting most of her salary on dubious and arguable accounts. Yulia’s simplicity and modesty win the day for her. While the play ends at a low note here, the original story has the housewife ponder how easy it is to be strong in this world.

The other pieces in the play likewise reveal their characters in their complete humanness. ‘The Seduction’ reveals the softer side of Pyotr Semyonych (an excellent performance by Salim Ghouse) who calls himself the greatest seducer of wives in the world, and wants to teach the audience a few trick of his trade. ‘The Audition’ takes the audience from hilarious raptures to the ultimate tragedy of life in a few seconds of an audition act by an aspiring actress (Anita Salim). ‘The Defenceless Creature’ sees a tragedy struck woman (Garima Arora) throw her rage, venom and fire on a gout stricken bank officer (Salim Ghouse) and his staff, and get away with the money she had come for, though in a wrong office. And finally, in the ‘The Arrangement’, a liberal father takes his adolescent son to a prostitute on his birthday to initiate him into manhood. The jitteriness of the young boy about to have his first time with a real girl is a real thing.

The Writer speaks

The six pieces are interconnected together by the character of the ‘Writer’ (Anton Chekhov played by Salim Ghouse) who takes the audience through his life journey, asking what he wished to do as a child. The answer is provided at the end, again after a question thrown to the audience. The Writer, through his interaction, makes the audience a very integral part of the play; a very amusing experience. In the Seduction piece, at the most pregnant moment of the story, when the character is to make a scripted choice of either walking back or carrying forward, he actually turns to the audience for their prompt (again scripted? but then how do we know!), and then makes his choice. A very cleverly plotted play this is.

The direction is faultless as the stories retain their focus, and the audience is kept on the toes throughout. The sets are minimal, some chairs and boxes, and a bed which was not required. The dresses bring out the Russian setting. Among the performers, KC Shankar easily brings out the laughs, though his actions are somewhat jerky. Anita Salim speaks her lines in a style which is her own. Garima Arora (in The Defenceless Woman) makes large movements, but delivers the required intensity. The 30+ generation will fondly remember Salim Ghouse, a multi-faceted personality, from his ‘Subaha’ teleserial days, and he doesn’t really have to make any effort to act; just talk and deliver the lines, and the rest gets done.

The play leaves the audience spellbound, and the amount of clapping heard after the performance was loud, clear and unstoppable. The stories awaken and bring out the compassion and love that lies in each one of us. A not-to-be-missed play.