BarnArts presents a completely different theatre experience, ‘The Good Doctor’
By Ray Couture, Standard Correspondent
For those feeling the winter doldrums, an upcoming BarnArts performance at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre promises to bring plenty of laughs and surprises to the stage.
A septet of BarnArts performers will perform “The Good Doctor,” a set of short stories originally written by famed Russian author Anton Chekhov that were adapted for the stage by American playwright and musician Neil Simon in 1973, during six total performances over two weekends starting March 17 and ending on March 26. Each member of the cast was tasked with directing one of the nine scenes in addition to acting in others and performing as multiple characters. BarnArts promises an “intimate experience” for the audience as they’ll be seated on stage next to the actors during the performance.
“A number of BarnArts directors have considered staging ‘The Good Doctor’ over the past few years,” says BarnArts Executive Director Linda Treash. “And then I came up with this idea — bringing a community of directors together, all of whom are also actors, to put on this warm, ‘story of stories’ play.” Treash is also one of the seven actor/directors.
Pentangle Arts Executive Director Alita Wilson suggested to Treash last summer that BarnArts consider a black box use of the 300+ seat theater. After a few meetings with Pentangle, Treash and “The Good Doctor” Creative Director Cliff Johnson agreed on a staging which puts the actors and the audience together on the large stage, eliminating the size obstacles of using a large theater for intimate community productions. The creative staging helps bring tech costs down to an affordable level for BarnArts. The project also received a $2k grant from the Woodstock Economic Development Commission (EDC) to assist with the viability, with hopes that such a flexible community use of the stage can be repeated. The EDC funds additionally support free tickets to anyone in the community who needs assistance with the purchase price.
“This is such an exciting opportunity to bring a completely different theater experience to the Upper Valley,” says Johnson. “It is rare for audience and actors to share the stage, yet it supports the intimacy we prefer at BarnArts.”
“We will be able to seat 100, which is perfect for us,” says Treash, who is also the set designer. “We have a half-circle 16×13 thrust stage against the back brick wall of the theater, and our directors are staging using proscenium or theater-in-the-round techniques, as suits the various stories. We will be using an aisle as well as some wing area for the more complex scenes.”
The cast /director list includes:
Bethel resident Killian White, who plays a “Sexton with a terrible headache” as well as a teasing mistress.
Abigail Bower (Montpelier) who performs as the “Chekhov-like” narrator of the play.
Cliff Johnson (Woodstock) who plays a novice doctor who attempts to help White’s Sexton extract a cumbersome tooth.
Erin Bennett (Wilder) plays an old man looking to make a connection with an older woman, Linda Treash (Barnard).
Olivia Piepmeier (Strafford) as a “seducer” named Peter.
Elyse DeNeige Robichaud (Barnard)
This is a debut performance for Piepmeier, who’s also the communications and admin manager for BarnArts. She sat down with the Vermont Standard to discuss her role in the upcoming play, getting back into acting for the first time since high school, and what audience members can expect when they come out to see “The Good Doctor.”
Q: Share a little about your background in acting and directing theater performances.
A: I actually haven’t participated in theater since high school. But I did it quite heavily. And that was like 15 years ago and I’d always dreamed of settling down somewhere and doing theater again. And I’m finally getting the chance. This is kind of my “I’m back” moment.
Q: What’s it like acting in a play again after such a long pause? Is it intimidating at all?
A: I mean, a little bit. As someone who’s kind of prone to impostor syndrome, I haven’t really felt like it as much. I think that kind of says a lot about the BarnArts community. Ever since I interviewed for this position, I’ve felt very welcome. It’s been a lot of fun because, since we’re both acting and directing, we all just sort of have this investment [in the performance]. It’s not phony, it’s not overbearing, there’s just a lot of ideas going around. And so, when we’re going over a scene, the director will be in charge, but someone else might say “What if we did this?” and it’s really useful and welcome. No one would get butthurt if [the director of a scene] said “Oh, I don’t really think that would work.” It’s just been really positive overall.
Q: What is “The Good Doctor” about in your own words?
A: It’s mostly — and this is hard to do because I helped write the summary on the website and in the press release, so I’m a little biased — about a writer’s creative process. It’s not just the writer doing a nonstop monologue about the play. We get to see into these little stories that they write or experience. There’s at least one scene [where the audience] gets to witness the narrator experiencing something. And it’s funny. Sometimes you have to tell people that really this is a comedy.
Q: What can you share about the characters you play?
A: They’re all very different and that has been one challenge. I’m personally playing three different characters. And it’s been a fun challenge to get my head around that I’m going to have to be three different people within the evening.
There’s a lot of playing with gender that’s happening which I think is fairly common in theater. I think it does add an element of fun to this. One of the characters is Peter, who is a seducer; and then another character I’m playing is the narrator as a nineteen-year-old being taken to a prostitute by their father. The teenager has no sense of anything about that part of life as a human, so these are two very different characters. The narrator is writing about love in lots of different ways and there’s some scenes that are a lot more subtle in terms of the comedy. There are some that are ridiculous, and I can say with the seducer scene that there’s a lot of fourth wall breaking.
Q: What does the play being performed as an “intimate black-box” experience mean for the audience?
A: The audience will be onstage with us. There will be risers so multiple rows of people can actually see the performance. The audience is going to be really close to us in this very minimal set, like the back wall of the Woodstock Town Hall Theater will just be there open and our costumes are not extravagant but suggestive.
Q: What aspect of the play are you most excited for audience members to experience?
A: It’s really the comedy. I find [the humor] as an actor and a director really satisfying. The play is in March, but February and January seem like hard months and like, why not just go sit in a theater and laugh?
It’s cool because it’s like the more you also watch your colleagues go over the scenes and direct and all that you start noticing different things. I find it satisfying to be able to tell someone that I really liked the way they did something.
Q: What’s an example from rehearsing you can share?
A: In one of the scenes that I’m directing, I told the actor the other day how much I really liked just the way they say something and their hand motions. It’s funny and, though it might not be laugh-out-loud funny for some people, I just find it amusing.
BarnArts’ ensemble will perform “The Good Doctor” at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater six times in March: at 7:30 p.m. on March 17, 18, 24 and 25 and at 2:30 p.m. on March 19 and 26. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children and can be purchased at barnarts.org.
IF YOU GO
The Good Doctor
Presented by BarnArts
March 17, 18, 25, 25 at 7:30 p.m.
March 19, 26 at 2:30 p.m.
$20 for adults, $15 for children
Purchase at barnarts.org