Off-Broadway Review: THE DOCTOR (North American Premiere at the Park Avenue Armory)

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by Gregory Fletcher on July 28, 2023

in Theater-New York


First and foremost, get your tickets now before this limited run closes on August 19 at the Park Avenue Armory, the preeminent black box theater of NYC. [If you’re not a season ticket holder already, you should be.] Robert Icke writes and directs one of the most relevant plays currently in performance. Contemporary and topical, it’s hard to believe the play has been adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 Professor Bernhardi. The writing is as electric and amplified as the onstage drummer and percussionist, Hannah Ledwidge, who accompanies the play throughout. Additionally, Icke’s inventive subtle staging proves to be at the highest level of craftmanship any theaterlover will admire, and that all student directors should study. In short, the writing and staging are thrilling and a pure theatrical delight.

Juliet Stevenson and Juliet Garricks
John McKay

How lovely to see Juliet Stevenson on a New York stage. Her work has long been admired since the 1980s at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Forty years later, she’s as powerful and passionate as ever. Not to mention, spry and athletic — at one point, shes literally (not figuratively) running circles around the stage as we experience the interior madness of her character’s breakdown. The tragic downfall is painful to witness because her portrayal is so comprehensive. Reminiscent to Cate Blanchett’s character in the film Tár (though not a predator), Ms. Stevenson’s doctor, Ruth Wolff, offers warts and all. She’s strong-willed and tough, if not gruff — and opinionated with the kind of bias that’s almost impossible to escape as an adult. By working hard in preparing herself as a doctor, a professor, and a leader, (not to mention withstanding a doctor’s daily schedule), her ego has neglected the social skills that could make her softer and warmer. In a complicated moment when trying to care for a dying patient, she’s challenged by a surprise visit of a priest with his own agenda. When he defies her authority, unfortunate words are exchanged between them, as well as a shove — all of which is recorded and ultimately taken over by cancel culture conspirators

Naomi Wirthner and Juliet Stevenson
The cast of The Doctor

The feverishly downward spiral of this worthy doctor makes the end of Act I feel like a complete collapse, a fulfilled journey. At intermission, there was not a clue where Act II could possibly go next.

Doña Croll

The opening scenes of the second act are reminiscent of the mock tribunal J. Robert Oppenheimer is forced to endure, though the doctor’s turns more public, ugly, and violent. Just when the heart cannot endure anymore breaking, the play finally slows down and allows her personal life to reveal itself, along with a surprise visit that (perhaps someday) may bring unexpected peace. Nevertheless, the doctor’s life will never be the same again and she must acknowledge her hand in the downfall.

Juliet Stevenson and Matilda Tucker 

Hildegard Bechtler’s set design is as minimalist as Robert Icke’s direction, with a delicate revolving stage that, at times, is hard to tell of its movement. Natasha Chivers’ lighting is quite effective with a shared minimalist approach. Tom Gibbons’ sound design and composition goes from subtle to over amplified, making the audience jump from the chaos onstage.

Juliet Stevenson
The cast of The Doctor

Along with Ms. Stevenson, Christopher Osikanlu Colquhoun gives a standout performance with the most honest, subtle performance onstage. The rest of the 11-member cast flourishes with the director’s casting concept, whereupon women play men, whites play blacks, blacks play Jews, a girl plays a boy in transition, et cetera. Allowing actors to act, to step into the shoes of characters who are different from themselves is not only rousing to witness, it also forces the audience to listen and focus closely, allowing our own biases to remain dormant. One of many brilliant choices. Have your tickets yet?

Matilda Tucker
Hannah Ledwidge on drums in The Doctor

photos by Stephanie Berger Photography/Park Avenue Armory

The Doctor
Wade Thompson Drill Hall
Park Avenue Armory
ends on August 19, 2023
for tickets, call 212.933.5812 or visit Armory

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