Photos by Matt Hembree (C’20)
Frances Marion Givhan
The Good Doctor concluded a sold-out six-show run on Saturday, November 5. The comedic play by Neil Simon delighted and entertained audiences, who reacted with smiles, chuckles, and infectious laughter. The energy of the actors and audience members fueled the show, giving the theatre a vibrant atmosphere. Each actor excelled in the particular comedy of their scene and proved their skill as the stories unfolded. “Making people laugh is not easy, but it’s fulfilling,” says Emily Riedlinger (C’18), who played The General’s Wife.
Chris Bryan, who played The Writer, carried the show with his accent and warm presence. His precise delivery of the humorous lines and his sincerity as a struggling writer created a friendly relationship between his character and the audience. The writer served as the connection between the on-lookers and the stories, as the spectators saw them through his eager, loving eyes. The depth of feeling that Bryan portrayed for his character’s craft and characters made the experience of the stories heartfelt. When he put down his pen at the end of the play, with the characters of his imagination standing around him, the contentment and peace The Writer felt was palpable.
The characters, pulled from short stories by Russian comedic writer Anton Chekhov, proved feats of comedy to play for the student actors. They pulled it off phenomenally. Donny Abel’s (C’19) performance gave life to a confident but naïve husband, whom he played perfectly with his non-assuming eyes and absolute trust. He sparked much of the amusement with the scene, while Will Burton-Edwards (C’18) provided a stronger personality as the devious seducer Peter Semonych. Burton-Edwards has a natural charisma that translated well to the self-important yet loveably humorous Peter. His facial expressions and deliberate body language augmented the comedy of the story. The real key to the scene lay in the contrast between the three characters and their different representations of comedy.
While “The Seduction” gave a complete story with character development, other scenes focused mainly on farce. Balazs Borosi (C’19) and Huntre Woolwine (C’16) complemented each other in “The Surgery,” with Borosi as a nervous priest with a toothache and Woolwine as the frightening dental student. The priest’s screams and fear fostered sympathy from the audience, who doubtless recounted dental horror stories from their own past. Borosi managed to change gears completely as he went from playing a priest to an eager marine sideshow performer in “The Drowned Man.” His tempting smile and authentic presentation of the drowner’s craft curried the audience’s favor. Just as The Writer’s curiosity got the best of him, so did the audience’s as the scene proceeded.
Tori Hinshaw’s portrayal of The Mistress in the second story of the play caused on-lookers to have a much different reaction. Hinshaw’s character plays a trick on the governess she has hired, played by Vanessa Moss (C’20), slowly docking her pay for reasons The Mistress makes up on the spot. Over the course of the scene, the atmosphere in the theatre grew more and more tense. “The scene was immensely uncomfortable,” says Robert Beeland (C’18), “and I think for good reason. Seeing The Mistress condescend to the governess made me afraid that the scene would never end.”
In this way, Hinshaw was successful. Her dominance of the scene kept the energy alive and engaged the audience, who kept wondering how far The Mistress’s joke would go. “I don’t think my character is wicked,” says Hindshaw. “The thought of being as seemingly weak or gracious without question like Vanessa’s character is an absurd thought to The Mistress.” In defense of her character, Hinshaw believes that The Mistress never anticipated for the trick to go as far as it did. “Though it’s a cruel trick,” she says, “the Mistress has a bit more kindness in her than one may first believe.”
An awkward and difficult problem with the production came from the audience-event relationship. The set itself creatively represented The Writer’s imagination and the way the stories spun out in his mind. The cabin at the center provided a focus point, while the lower platforms allowed the stories to play out, with The Writer watching the whole time. The set-up of the seating units and stage did not succeed, however. “The set was not convenient for people sitting in the side seating units,” says Lam Ho (C’17). The proximity of the seating units to the platforms meant for tight walking spaces between the two, while off-center audience members had an awkward sightline to the adjacent scenes.
However, slight mishaps and improvisations also occur, but those frequently add to the comedy and test the actors’ skills. Riedlinger recalls, “On opening night, Quang’s mustache fell off on stage, and I had to watch in horror as it slid further and further down his face.” Also on opening night, the cast members of “The Seduction” had to mix improvisation with the script in order to recover from a few tripped lines. Ultimately, though, no one noticed, which was a testament to the actors’ trust and abilities. By the final night, though, the show went beautifully. “The last night I think was the best,” says Riedlinger. “It’s always great when the actors get bolder with their lines and blocking since, on the last night, there’s nothing to lose.”
The success of The Good Doctor demonstrates the hard work and dedication of Sewanee’s theatre community. From the costumes to tech to scenery to acting, every member of the Theatre Department came together to create a proud and confident performance. “What can I say,” jests Riedlinger, “a bunch of weirdos, all of them.” She fondly describes the community as “a bunch of kids that want to make pretend worlds out of an empty space, fill it with pretend characters, and have people watch us do it.”