The Good Doctor is a full-length play that exposes the ridiculous, tender, outlandish, ludicrous, innocent, and weird frailties of human beings. Each scene tells its own story, but the behavior of the characters and the resolutions of their stories are not typical or predictable.
In this play, Neil Simon dramatizes short stories written by Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov. Simon even gives Chekhov a role without specifically naming him; it is commonly accepted that the character of The Writer in the play is a quirky version of Chekov himself.
The Good Doctor is not a play with a unified plot and sub-plot. Instead, it is a series of scenes that, when experienced one after another, give you a strong sense of Chekhov's take on the human condition embellished by Simon's wit and pithy dialogue. The Writer is the one unifying element in the scenes, introducing them, commenting on them, and occasionally playing a role in them. Other than that, each scene can (and often does) stand alone as its own story with its own characters.
When this play done in its entirety-11 scenes-appeared on Broadway, five actors played all 28 roles. Nine roles are female and 19 are male roles, but in a few scenes, a female could play a character designated in the script as male. The scene breakdown below will give you a sense of all the roles in all the scenes. Many productions eliminate a scene or two because the action in one scene is unrelated to the action in another.
There are no ensemble moments in this play-no “crowd” scenes. Each scene is character-driven by the small number of characters (2 - 5) in each.
The set needs for this play are simple, even though the action occurs in a variety of locales: seats in a theatre, a bedroom, a hearing room, a study, a dentist's office, a park bench, a public garden, a pier, an audition space, and a bank office. Furniture can easily be added, struck, or rearranged; some big pieces-like a desk-can be used in several different scenes.
While the character names and some of the language seem to insist that the action occurs in 19the century Russia, the themes and conflicts in these scenes are timeless and could work in a variety of locales and eras.
This play is billed as “A Comedy with Music,” but except for the scene called “Too Late for Happiness” in which lyrics that the characters sing are printed in the text of the script, music is not imperative to the performance. In the script that I have-copyright 1974-the publishers offer a “tape recording of the special music for this play.” Directors can check to see whether such a tape or CD or electronic file of music is still offered, but the scenes can stand on their own without the specific music, in my opinion.
The scene called “The Seduction” scenes deal with the possibility of infidelity in marriage, although the infidelity is unrealized. In “The Arrangement,” a father purchases the services of a woman for his son's first sexual experience, but that too goes unrealized. There is no profanity in this script.
The Scenes and Roles
“The Writer” The play's narrator, the Chekhov character, welcomes the interruption of an audience for his stories in a two-page monologue.
“The Sneeze” A man in a theatre audience lets loose a monstrous sneeze that sprays the neck and head of the man seated in front of him-a man who just happens to be his superior at work. It's not the sneeze, but the man's reparations that cause his eventual demise.
3 males, 2 females
“The Governess” An officious employer unfairly subtracts and subtracts money from her meek governess's wages. (To view a video of this scene, click here.)
“Surgery” An eager inexperienced medical student wrestles with a man to yank his painful tooth out.
“Too Late for Happiness” An older man and woman engage in small talk on a park bench, but their song reveals their inner thoughts and wishes.
1 male, 1 female
“The Seduction” A bachelor shares his foolproof method of seducing other men's wives with no direct contact until she is on her way into his arms.
2 males, 1 female
“The Drowned Man” A man finds himself agreeing to pay a sailor for the entertainment of watching the sailor jump in the water to drown himself.
“The Audition” A young inexperienced actress annoys and then enchants the Voice in the darkness of the theatre when she auditions.
1 male, 1 female
“A Defenseless Creature” A woman dumps her considerable woes on a bank manager with such vehemence and histrionics that he gives her money just to get rid of her. (To view a video of this scene, click here.)
2 males, 1 female
“The Arrangement” A father negotiates a price with a woman to give his son his first sexual experience as a 19th birthday gift. Then he has second thoughts.
2 males, 1 female
“The Writer” The play's narrator thanks the audience for visiting and listening to his stories.
“A Quiet War” (This scene was added following the first printing and production of the play.) Two retired military officers hold their weekly park bench meeting to continue discussing their disagreements. This week's topic of conflict is the perfect lunch.
YouTube offers videos of a stage production of scenes from the play.