By Greg Gould
After delivering big laughs with Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of An Anarchist in 2018, local theatre companies Limbo Theatre Co and Honest Puck will team up again next week to present another comedy classic.
The Good Doctor, directed by James Scott and written by American playwright Neil Simon, is based on a series of short stories by Russian literary figure Anton Chekhov.
On stage, the stories are narrated by an unnamed author struggling with writer's block — a writer widely believed to represent Chekhov himself.
As the writer, played here by Damon Baudin, shares his troubles and writing with the audience, his stories manifest as a series of short standalone scenes performed by small but energetic acting troupe.
Each story is, in turn, charming, hilarious, sad, and touching. All brim with characters who are immediately relatable and undeniably human.
“The play is two distinct genres being melded together,” says Nick Steain, actor and Limbo ensemble member.
“Each story has the Chekhovian naturalism presented along with Simon’s modern comedic overlay. That affords us the ability to utilise a lot of slapstick and clowning and other grotesque styles of theatre that we were interested in. This fits perfectly with our group’s ethos to be seriously silly.”
And seriously silly they will be. While the ensemble — here taking on the persona of a Russian-style acting troupe — will only perform nine of the eleven vignettes from the original 1973 Broadway production, it promises to be a night packed with hilarity and hijinks.
Featured stories include The Drowned Man, which follows the story of an entrepreneur who drowns himself for money, and The Audition, about an actress who walks for days to attend an audition only to spend her allocated time gushing over the writer.
Personal favourites for Steain include The Sneeze and The Surgery.
“The Sneeze is about a lowly government clerk who sneezes on his boss during a night at the theatre and is compelled to apologise to over and over because he’s convinced his boss is humouring him. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well. It’s a funny scene because the whole ordeal is just so manufactured because he overthinks it. It’s a situation I think a lot of people can relate to.”
“The Surgery is about an underqualified and over-enthusiastic dental surgeon performing a tooth extraction on a suitably terrified member of the church. There’s a lot of slapstick in that particular scene. Hopefully, it’ll get the audience cringing a little bit.”
Following Simon’s death last year at the age of 91, the production is a timely tribute to the acclaimed writer, while also celebrating the humour often overlooked in Chekhov's work. It also gives the fledgling Limbo a chance to boost their behind-the-scenes experience as the ensemble takes on the dual roles of performers and producers.
It’s a hands-on approach that aligns perfectly with their desire to create and steer their own artistic careers.
“After leaving drama school we didn’t want to be subjected to the tortured artist archetypes,” says Steain, who along with most of the Limbo performers are graduates of the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art — now rebranded as Perform Australia.
“We wanted to feel more empowered about the decisions we’ve made and not be subjected to an audition room all the time. We wanted to take control and build our own resumes and create our own work, which in the last year has been quite an empowering process.”
Supported by experienced producers James and Elizabeth Scott, the brains behind Honest Puck and Perform Australia, it’s a transition that has given the ensemble a greater appreciation of the often-unseen parts of theatre-making.
“It’s a bit of a shock to the system. It’s forced us to wear a number of different hats, apart from just an actor's hat. So, we have to take on marketing and promotion. We have to obtain rights and do budgeting and planning and a lot of analytical stuff. To be honest, some aspects can be pretty boring — but that’s what it takes. Getting a taste of that was valuable for us to appreciate how much work has to go into producing a stage show.”