The American Showcase Theatre Co., a fledgling group in Alexandria, has opened a four-play season with "The Good Doctor," a series of Russian scenes by Neil Simon based on stories by Anton Chekhov. The production is as unprepossessing as the room in which it is performed, which has all the charm of a railway station waiting room.

Every now and then there are glimpses of potential: excellent and thorough costumes by Pat Risser, compelling acting by Susan Goldstein and an effective performance by Steven Le Blanc, and a few intriguing stories courtesy of Chekhov. But it would be hard for even the greatest actors and playwrights to create magic against the backdrop of a bare wall decorated with sconces and an electrical outlet and a set that consists of two boxes that expand into furniture.

"The Good Doctor" is a meager work; some of the vignettes have charm, and most of the endings offer a surprise, but they are not terribly satisfying as an evening of theater -- rather like eating a plate of hors d'oeuvres for dinner. In one, an upper-middle-class housewife browbeats her meek governess out of her salary in order to teach her a lesson (Goldstein is particularly good as the trenchant housewife). In another, Goldstein, browbeating again, forces an unwilling bank officer to give her money another company owes her ailing husband.

The other actors are too often labored and artificial, struggling with raw enthusiasm rather than skill. Director Jill Halloran has orchestrated a certain energy into the proceedings, but a piece like this requires an imaginative presentation to lift it beyond the perfunctory. The ASTC has impressive ambitions to become Alexandria's resident professional theater, a goal so far outstripped by its need for technical expertise and artistic enterprise.