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Neil Simon comedy a perfect choice for Dramatis Personae

By Byron Toben

June 26, 2023

In 1973, Neil Simon, one of the most successful American playwrights, was inspired by short stories of Russian writer Anton Chekhov, a physician who also wrote some classic plays, to create this comedy later made into a 1978 TV movie. A perfect choice for Westmount’s community theatre, Dramatis Personae.

The play consisted of seven playlets. Introducing the seven was a writer/narrator Karen Sauder who, with a feather quill, was a stand-in for Chekov.

The pieces, in order, were:

The Sneeze
A government clerk, Cherdyyakov (Malcolm McRae) and his wife, Ellen Rubin, out for a night at the opera are seated behind his department head, General Brassillhov (Clive Brewer) and his wife, Christine Davet, when he accidentally makes an enormous sneeze on the General’s back. Over-apologizing makes matters worse, leading to a nervous breakdown.

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The Governess
Here, a Mistress (Ellen Rubin) attempts to cheat her children’s governess, Julia (Bruna Perussello), out of her salary by made-up charges and being refuted, claiming it was just a test to see if she would stand up for herself.

Sister Anastasia (Ann Elbourne) visits a dentist (Shaine Adler) to fix a toothache but his zeal in doing so frightens her.

The Seduction
Semyonych (Ian Knowles), a seducer, sets out to seduce Irena (Sandra Lee) even though she is the wife of his best friend, Nikolaich (Malcolm McRae).

The Drowned Man
A gentleman (Christine Davet) is approached by a sailor (Shaine Adler) to pay to watch a man drowning. Suspicious, he calls a policeman (Simon Topp).

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The Audition
A theatre director (Clive Brewer) auditions Nina (Bruna Perusssello), a novice who has traveled far for the audition and praises the director excessively.

A Defenseless Creature
A woman (Ann Elbourne) pesters Kistunov, an ill banker (Ian Knowles), for money for her injured husband despite warnings to Kistunov’s assistant Pochatkin (Simon Topp), to keep her away.

The entire show, which ran on June 10, 11, 14, and 15, was ably directed by Victor Vasuta, succeeding the excellent director Chris Moore and, before him, Jacqueline van de Geer. The directors are professionals, and the unpaid but competent actors are amateurs who also contribute their off-stage services.

Ms. Sauder is the stage manager and handles costumes and props. Mr. McRae does stage construction, and Ms. Rubin and Ms. Elbourne do overall production. Roger Jochym provides sound and lighting.

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Images: Michel Degres

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Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated websites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner, and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.
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