If laughter is the best medicine, then the doctor’s orders are to see Creighton University’s fall production of “The Good Doctor.” When you put a sexton, a seducer and a storyteller together on one stage, you are bound for a comedic rollercoaster.
Although it’s written by Broadway comedy master Neil Simon, it was inspired by Russia’s unsurpassed literary doctor, Anton Chekhov. This hilarious slapstick performance is bound for success, as it is directed by three experienced and diversely trained Creighton graduates: Denise Chapman, 2001; Chris Shonka, 1997; and Sonja Keffer, 1991.
The entire play, which is set in 19th-century Russia, is divided into six different scenes or short stories, each about 10 minutes long. Each director was initially assigned to a few specific sections prior to the final collaboration. With a cast of 13, only Arts & Sciences senior Matt Karasek, who plays the writer, is present in all six scenes. Karasek stars as the production’s lead and has been involved with Creighton theater since he was a freshman.
“It’s a lot of fun being involved in every scene, but it’s also very tiring and nerve-wracking,” Karasek said. “It’s an extremely different way to do a show [with six scenes], but it really works with each director’s individual perspectives and dynamics. It makes the unifying process really impressive.”
Arts & Sciences senior and newcomer Brian Wessling, who plays a police officer, sexton and drowned man, wishes he had become involved with the Creighton’s Theater Department much earlier.
“Being the first play I’ve been involved with in five years, it has gone very well,” Wessling explained. “The directors are extremely helpful; they understand everyone is doing this on their own time, so they value everyone’s time and efforts.”
Chapman graduated from Creighton with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater and went on to receive her Master of Fine Arts degree in Chicago. After two years of professional acting in the city, she decided to move back to Omaha.
“People always come back to Omaha . . . there is just something about this city,” she said. Chapman directed the two scenes, “The Surgery” and “Too Late for Happiness.”
“After getting a lot of directing experience outside of Omaha, it’s still good to be back and collaborate with people you have prior knowledge of, at such a great place,” Chapman added.
After graduating from Creighton, Shonka went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at Temple University in Philadelphia. Once finished, he spent a year in New York pursuing parts in soap operas and other acting jobs. In 2001, he decided to get his doctorate in theater history from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Staying in touch with Creighton Theater coordinator Bill Hutson, Shonka was able to return to Omaha and get involved with Creighton theater. He worked on the scenes, “The Sneeze” and “The Drowned Man” and co-directed “The Arrangement” with Hutson.
“I enjoyed working with ‘The Drowned Man’ the most because the context is so preposterous,” Shonka said. “Like the entire play, there is so much depth, yet quirkiness. It’s rewarding to work with this series of short stories because we are working together with two authors from different times.”
When Keffer received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater and her Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing, she knew she wanted to put it to use in Omaha. She worked for a year at The Rose Theater and loved the hands-on experience. After moving to California for a few years, she, like the rest, moved back to Omaha.
“It was very fun and excit[ing] when I was asked to be involved,” Keffer said. “It’s a clever choice of role, challenging acting styles and a different time period. ”
Keffer directed “The Governess,” “The Seduction” and “The Audition.”
“I like ‘The Seduction’ best, Keller said. “It is the longest scene [20 minutes] and full of drama, comedy, romance, passion and surprising twist at the end.”
With the help of three prodigal Creighton graduates, “The Good Doctor” is in fine shape and sure to have you rolling on the floor.