Camden Civic Theatre’s (CCT) production of Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor played to sold out audiences for its short June run at Creekview Community Center — which speaks to a desire that CCT correctly identified — people want to see live action on a stage and will spend their money and time to do so.
The Good Doctor is a series of vignettes based on stories by Anton Chekhov, probably more known for his plays such as Uncle Vanya. These stories are primarily comical and Simon’s adaptation embellishes that humor whenever possible. The stories range from a new dentist and a fearful patient, to a smooth talker trying to seduce a wife away from her husband, to a man who accidentally sneezes on his boss and becomes obsessed with trying to apologize.
Community theatre, which works with few resources, never runs smoothly — it is part of the nature of the beast. So there will be missed sound cues or entrances, a wig that won’t quite stay on properly, a line momentarily lost to memory, etc., and this production had its share of glitches. But the audience took everything in stride — accepting that when one is performing in a small community center space and people are furniture movers as well as actors, small problems will emerge.
The CCT obviously enjoyed their time on stage together, performing with enthusiasm and commitment to the story. For me, standouts were Kristina Knutson and Matt Garcia, both of whom proved adept at the difficult business of being funny. Knutson played both wife and lady of the evening with dry wit and great timing, while Garcia played two very different roles as seducer and innocent young man, both filled with endearing charm. They did not play their characters as funny, but gave the audience genuine people to which we attach and thereby find comic. Jane O’Brien and Norma Peterson are to be complimented on their costume design — many costumes for many characters done well given limited time and resources.
What struck me most about the evening, however, was the audience. Across from me was a young boy of 8 or 9 who laughed and smiled throughout the show - not home watching television or playing computer games, but intently involved in a performance based on the work of a Russian author of whom I’m betting he has never heard. And the man next to me who proudly told me his son was in the show (Matt Pfaffendorf who played the clueless husband with sweet insensitivity) and said something that summed up the evening for me, “You know, you forget how wonderful it is to see something like this.” He wasn’t speaking just about this particular show, he meant coming to sit in a seat in the dark and watch people act live on stage instead of on a screen. And that is why community theatre exists — we need to come out of our houses and listen to stories being told - together.
Camden residents had to wait over 25 years for the return of live theatre to their community. But when Camden Civic Theatre (CCT) opened the box office doors for its debut performance of Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor in June, the neighborhood responded in full force. All four performances sold out and the box office was faced with the welcome “problem” of trying to find space for over 15 additional patrons per show.
The production included Camden residents filling such roles as producer/artistic director (Jeff Redman), cast (Dan Hylton, Jeff Johnson), stage manager (Cheri Moseman), company manager (Jenni Redman), pianist (Jaette Carpenter), and box office manager (Phillip Knoll).
Local theatre practitioner Jeff Redman has been teaching Minneapolis Community Education theatre classes in Camden for the past two years (the classes are still being taught, and will be offered again this fall for both beginning and intermediate acting). CCT was officially formed this past winter when Redman and a small group of dedicated protégés launched the theatre company as a non-profit entity. The Good Doctor was CCT’s first full-fledged public stage production but, gauging by its success, Camden residents should be able to look forward to many more seasons to come.