The Good Doctor. By Neil Simon, adapted from stories by Anton Chekov. Directed by James Scott. Limbo Theatre and and Honest Puck Theatre. Perform Australia, 11 Whyalla Street, Fyshwick. Until Saturday August 31, 7.30pm. honestpuck.com.au.
An author suffering from writer's block begins talking to rid himself of the problem.
With his 1973 play The Good Doctor, American comedy writer Neil Simon forged a link with his 19th-century Russian predecessor, Anton Chekhov. Canberra's Limbo Productions and Honest Puck Theatre have joined forces to present the work with an ensemble cast directed by James Scott (who also acts in it).
Cast member Nick Steain, co-founder of Limbo with Damon Baudin, says The Good Doctor appealed to the company because of Limbo's ethos "of being seriously silly" - both elements are present in the play.
They had performed the works when students at Perform Australia (formerly the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art), where Honest Puck is based, and were now bringing them to a wider audience.
Baudin plays the author/narrator. He is unnamed, but Baudin says,. "We're very conscious he is Chekhov.
"We meet him in his study. He takes us through the short stories and ties them all together."
What emerges are vignettes focusing on the humour, absurdity and poignancy of life - taken from a Russian author, filtered through the sensibilities of an American writer, and dealing with universal themes.
Steain is featured in two of them.
In Surgery, Steain plays a church sexton suffering a toothache.
"He's at the mercy of an overenthusiastic dentist."
"She overpowers him," Steain says,
"She physically beats him - he's suffering and in a lot of pain."
But it's done with humour, he says, and it fits into the show thematically: "often there's one character at the mercy of another".
She overpowers him ... She physically beats him - he's suffering and in a lot of pain.- Nick Steain
The other story in which Steain is featured is The Drowned Man, in which a confidence trickster pretends to drown himself to make money in the name of "maritime entertainment". Steaine plays an aristocrat who is drawn into this.
Baudin says a lot of the comedy lies in the suffering of various characters. For example, in The Governess, a mother makes up offences and damages and demands recompense from her child's governess for these to withold her employee's wages; The Sneeze (based on The Death of a Government Clerk) deals with the escalating complications when a clerk accidentally sneezes on a general during a night at the opera.
Steain says the play "definitely has Neil Simon's flavour" in its character eccentricities and verbal humour although the American author didn't change much about the stories themselves. Baudin adds that the director and actors have put their own spin on things, including the idea that the actors in the stories are a Moscow theatrical troupe performing them.
As well as Simon adapting Chekhov, Steain says, "he's now been adapted by us".