The Good Doctor Is In

Kat Clausen and Marcelus Willis battle it out on stage as a sexton with dental pain and an apprentice doctor determined to remove the offending tooth.

If you live in Iowa and pay attention to community theater at all, you often find yourself thinking, “Oh, look: yet another production of State Fair/The Music Man/The Bridges of Madison County.” There’s not a great deal of variety. In the month of April, however, theater fans finally have a reason to get excited: Neil Simon’s Tony Award-winning play The Good Doctor comes to the Scott Theatre.

Featuring a number of returning players as well as a few debuts, the play is a unique choice for director Dr. Kevin Babbitt, who describes it as “an anthology of short scenes… it is primarily an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s short stories.” Indeed, it sounds unique even for author Simon, who has collaborated with legends like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.

Dr. Babbitt teaches Acting I and II at SCC’s Belmont Campus, where its black box theater will host the play’s short run from Thursday, April 27th to Sunday, April 30th. Tickets go on sale at the door about half an hour before each show. Shows are scheduled starting at 7:30 p.m. from April 27th through the 29th with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, April 30th.

With more Tony and Oscar nominations to his name than any other writer in history, Simon’s massive body of work is considered a significant contribution to American culture. This has much to do with the approachability of his art; it is both lofty and unpretentious. His characters are clever, yet emotionally accessible.

Such material is perfectly cast. While auditions for Scott Theatre productions are open to the public, the majority of the players in The Good Doctor are students in their late teens and early twenties. They are at the stage in their education where Chekhov’s works are gaining significance, and at the stage in their theatrical training where they are very receptive to what is new – new perspectives, new objectives, and even new facial hair.

Here’s Max Robnett recreating his reaction when Dr. Babbitt first told him he’d have to grow a goatee to play the Narrator/Chekhov.

Rehearsals have left some of the actors breathless as they enthusiastically incorporate physical comedy – climbing on furniture, falling to the floor, leaping off the stage, etc. Some of their acrobatics include chasing each other amongst audience seating.

“In addition to the humor, the audience will enjoy the closeness of the actors,” Dr. Babbitt smiles.

The black box theater at Scott Community College is modeled after small, independent theaters of the 1960s and ‘70s. The size of the theater requires Dr. Babbitt to get creative with the set and with blocking.

Fortunately, due to the material’s self-referential nature and repeated breaking of the fourth-wall, the stage actually includes the entire theater. This makes the audience part of the performance.

This fits well with Dr. Babbitt’s philosophy about acting as a life skill from which everyone can benefit.

“Acting helps you to empathize with others,” Dr. Babbitt says while fiddling with sound cues on his laptop alongside with his student director, Paxton Loquist. “It also helps you to understand people’s motivations more clearly and to present yourself with confidence in any situation. It helps one overcome feelings of self-consciousness.”

The point being that whether one is planning for a life on stage, behind a desk, or under a diesel engine, all are welcome and encouraged to participate in productions at Scott Theatre. Get started by attending The Good Doctor and support your local community arts.