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THEATER REVIEW / 'THE GOOD DOCTOR' : Chekhov Visit : The play, drawn from short stories by the Russian author, represents the greatest accomplishment of the Camarillo group.


Although he's not once mentioned in the script, Russian author Anton Chekhov is the star of--and inspiration behind--Neil Simon's 1973 play, "The Good Doctor." It is a collection of skits based on several of the 60 short stories by the 19th-Century physician-turned-writer.

The play also represents the greatest accomplishment so far of the Faye Renee Dinner Theatre at Ottavio's Banquet Facility in Camarillo.

A professorial-looking man--identified only as "The Writer" but clearly meant to be Chekhov--appears onstage at the beginning and discusses his passion for his craft. He begins weaving tales, which are re-enacted for the audience. Four actors play four or five roles each, with John Hulette, who portrays "The Writer," stepping in from time to time to fill in an additional character.

The mood ranges from reflective--and what might be considered very Russian--to the type of literate slapstick humor that could have come out of a sketch by English comics Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, or perhaps even the Monty Python troupe.

Director Mary Lee Hulette has assembled a highly capable cast. In addition to her husband, the players are Patricia Adrian and Terry Fishman--both of whom have performed in earlier productions by the group--and two young newcomers to the company. Aaron Pyle and Susan Wiltfang are veterans of the Conejo Players, both most recently seen with distinction in that company's "Big River" and "Tartuffe."

The younger cast members are perhaps two of the finest comic actors on the local scene today. Several highlights in "The Good Doctor" feature at least one of the two: Pyle as a dimwitted husband in "The Seduction" with Wiltfang as his wife, the subject of Hulette's ardor; Pyle as a street-theater artist with an odd specialty in "The Drowned Man," and Wiltfang again as a naive, would-be actress in "The Audition."

Adrian and Fishman sparkle in "The Defenseless Creature"--one of several examples of Chekhov's respect for a woman's intelligence--and again in the show's one song, the bittersweet "Too Late for Happiness."

Fishman and John Hulette portray two ancient gentlemen who take great pleasure in weekly arguments in "A Quiet War."

Also, a musical overture composed for the show by Peter Link (who also wrote "Too Late for Happiness") isn't heard here. But neither of the missing sections creates a noticeable hole in the production, which stands among the swiftest-moving and most entertaining comedies to be presented in Ventura County in quite some time.


* "The Good Doctor" runs Thursday through Saturday evenings through April 17 at the Faye Renee Dinner Theatre in Ottavio's Banquet Facilities, 340 N. Mobil Ave. in Camarillo. Tickets are $25 per person Thursdays and Fridays, including a buffet dinner, and $35 on Saturdays, including a served dinner. Tickets are non-refundable and group rates are available. All dinners begin at 7 p.m. with an 8:15 curtain. Meals include dinner, nonalcoholic beverage, dessert, tax and gratuity; a full cash bar is available. For reservations or further information, call 484-9909.

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