"The Good Doctor," a minor Neil Simon oddity at the Round House Theater, is a sporadically amusing string of nine brief vignettes framed by an easy device -- The Writer, who spins the little yarns in his dilapidated study.
Borrowing his scenarios from Anton Chekov's short stories, Simon aims to provide occasional glimpses of human nature in his miniatures. But you'd better look fast -- each Simonized "truth" is quickly replaced by "trite." Under the direction of acting artistic director Douglas A. Cumming, the Round House company plays this slight stuff broadly, even by Neil Simon standards.
The stories include "The Sneeze," a laborious account of a cloddish clerk who embarrasses himself by sneezing on a superior at the theater. The skit contains one truly funny moment -- a slow-motion pantomime of the nasty event, as it lives in the memory of the sneezer. In addition to reducing Chekov's delicate ironies to one- liners, Simon also puts the touch on "A Chorus Line" for the brief "Audition," in which a young actress from the sticks of Odessa outsmarts a Moscow director. And under the pretense of examining why people find humor in the pain of others, Simon raids Three Stooges movies for the old slapstick bit about the dentist's sadistic assistant.
To his credit, director Cumming keeps everyone moving at a brisk clip. But he would do well to steer Round House clear of foreign accents. As The Writer, Richard DeAngelis lifts his schtick bodily from "Fiddler on the Roof." And the Russian tongue is disastrously interpreted throughout as belabored syllables and misplaced v's and w's. (Sample dialogue: "Vawter is vet.")
Still, there's some fun to be found. Several skits are redeemed by guest artist Julie Frazer, who has a delightful, Carol Burnett-like blend of pathos and humor. And both Frazer and Daniel Yates display fine singing voices in "Too Late for Happiness," a melancholy duet about two lonely elderly people who miss their chance to connect. Ronald Olsen's clever pop-out set and Scott Bethke's soft, wintry lighting add visual appeal.
Perhaps the most telling line in "The Good Doctor" is supplied by The Writer, a stand-in for Simon himself. Bemoaning his own lack of literary luster and critical acclaim, he kvetches, "So it will be to my dying day -- 'charming and clever, charming and clever.' " As ye sow, so shall ye reap. THE GOOD DOCTOR -- At the Round House Theater through December 23.