Sometimes the best way to be is blunt: You should go see The Good Doctor. Don't argue. Just do it.
But, if you are going to be ornery and need reasons, we can oblige.
The Oasis Theatre Company, established in New York City in 1988 and a relative newcomer to Santa Fe, has staged its third production here; its Marriage by the Masters last summer and The Water Engine last month were both plenty impressive, sure. But The Good Doctor, up now at Paraguas, is in a class by itself.
The play, a 1974 adaption of nine short stories by 19th-century writer Anton Chekhov, is tied together by the narrator "The Writer" (ostensibly Chekhov himself, played by the ever-luminous Vaughn Irving—whose lobby head shot, by the way, is hung next to one of Chekhov, and it was definitely a good aesthetic casting too). The evening's 24 roles are portrayed here by a tight cast of five, including the play's director and Oasis Artistic Director Brenda Lynn Bynum and Oasis founding member and Managing Director James Jenner.
Bynum has previously told SFR that Oasis aims to bring classical theater to life—to aptly capture and portray the relatability of plays written perhaps a century ago, if not more. A noble goal; but, of course, it's easy for companies to rest on the laurels of their scripts and ignore the humanity necessary to deeply communicate an old show's genius to an audience (a mostly dry performance of Mary Stuart in Albuquerque the day after I enjoyed The Good Doctor drove this point home even further).
From what I've seen, though, Oasis never rests. Through deft casting, energetic interpretation and a deep understanding of the lines, this cast shines brilliantly.
This show is often billed as hilarious and uplifting, which is ultimately true here. Chekhov's works are regarded as some of the best fiction in history, and the direct translations to modern life are uncanny, despite having been written more than 130 years ago.
Of course, much classical literature continues to inspire—but take Shakespeare, for example. You really have to pay attention to know what's going on if you're not comfy with Early Modern English. Once you understand it, it's remarkable; but there's a cognitive wall there. What makes Chekhov's works such a delight is the lack of translation needed. To children, it is hilarious. To simpletons, it's hilarious. To drunks, it's hilarious. To everyone, it's hilarious. It's just really exceptionally funny stuff. People wheezed. I snorted. No matter who you are, Irving's delivery of the line, "You actually expect me to pay for an underwater pig squeal?" is going to get you going.
But, like in any intelligent production, the dynamics here were spot-on. The deepest intensity was brought by Tallis Rose, who once again impresses—though here, she's more one-note than we've seen her play before. It's a fantastic note, and we'd listen to it all day, but it's pretty much only one in this show. She's a solemn and skilled straight character, and three of the four women she plays openly weep. And we're not talking trite devices or heartstring-tuggers; this is heavy stuff, here. Lives are ruined, dreams are crushed, souls are eviscerated. Yikes.
Ah, yet, don't despair entirely: There's always a buoy. Remarkably, in a scene in which she is opposite Irving, you could have heard a pin drop in the audience as Rose delivered a heartbreaking monologue. I actually held my breath. A cavernous world of a single character in a 10-minute play opened up to us. It was beautiful and rending. The universe stopped.
And then! Silently, with only a turn of his head, Irving sent us back into peals of laughter, and the swift pace of a show sometimes nearing farce picked right up again and plugged along jauntily.
Jenner and Bynum, as well, are effortlessly relatable. In the sweet a cappella musical interlude "Too Late for Happiness," they play a couple of gone-to-seed park-strollers wondering whether it might be—you guessed it—too late to find happiness with one another. It was a soothing, touching moment amidst rollicking bookending scenes. Jenner, in "Surgery," opposite Irving, plays a priest with an abscessed tooth, full of smartly done slapstick and impossibly endearing childish mannerisms (no one likes the dentist, right?). Toward the end, "The Defenseless Creature" finds Jenner once again red in the face and rolling around on the floor in pain, and we only wish Bynum's character of "the woman" could have been obnoxious enough to meet his craziness. (It was a tall order.)
Rounding out the cast is Matthew Montoya, whose individual dynamics also bring great joy to the stage. Within a single character, particularly in the opening scene, "The Sneeze," he is snarling and obsequious, sometimes in the same sentence. He's a not-terribly-slick con man in "The Drowned Man," and a hopelessly adorable 19-year-old whose father is setting him up with a prostitute in "The Arrangement." He's often goofy as hell without being childish, and a pencil-thin mustache (perhaps left over from his portrayal of Charles Lang in The Water Engine) lends an almost cartooney emphasis to his bright smile.
Staging nine plays on one stage in quick succession is no small feat, and elaborate costumes, a spare but deliberate set and downright narrative lighting design from Jeff Tarnoff make the multi-setting piece in a small theater utterly understandable.
All in all, Oasis Theatre Company is proving an exquisite addition to the Santa Fe performing arts scene, and I, for one, am thankful to New Mexico for being beautiful enough to lure these folks out of Manhattan. This fall promises a production of Uncle Vanya, another Chekhov piece, from Oasis—and if I could buy advance tickets today, I would.
The Good Doctor
7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday March 15-17; 2 pm Sunday March 18.
Through March 25. $15-$25.
3205 Calle Marie,