Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Dr. Cook's Garden

Also see Susan's review of The Road to Mecca

David Schmidt and JB Bissex
American Century Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, has dug up Ira Levin's little-known 1967 thriller Dr. Cook's Garden to open its season, and it's a disappointment. The play, a rumination on evil hiding in unexpected places, might have worked better with an actor of more gravitas in the title role: David Schmidt is avuncular and kindly, but he lacks the steely underpinnings to make believable the character's darker side.

The plot follows Jim Tennyson (JB Bissex), a young doctor who has just finished his internship in Chicago, as he visits his idyllic New England hometown. The residents of Greenfield Center, Vermont, consider it a "blessed" place where the "good" people live long, healthy lives and God seems to take only the troublemakers and the incurably ill. Dr. Leonard Cook (Schmidt) is the only physician in town, tending the community as lovingly as he does his prize-winning garden.

Director Ellen Dempsey gets the initial pacing right, as Jim catches up on town history with Dr. Cook's nurse (Kathryn Cocroft), housekeeper (Carol McCaffrey) and gardener (Robert Lavery). The audience soon picks up on the young doctor's increasing uneasiness about his mentor, whom he loves like a father, but some of their subsequent confrontations come across as unintentionally comic.

Burl Ives played Dr. Cook during its brief Broadway run, and Bing Crosby did a television movie version. Both of these actors could convey malice underlying a gentle exterior. Schmidt, in contrast, has a rather whining tone of voice, which makes him seem petulant when he should be chilling. He also has trouble with Steve Lada's fight choreography. Bissex is rather colorless as a man young enough to have not faced challenges to his ideals, and the others are fine in two-dimensional roles.

Trena Weiss-Null deserves credit for creating a panoramic scenic design that allows the action to flow naturally from the exterior waiting room to Dr. Cook's external office, with its card file of patient records and glass-fronted medical cabinet, to the welcoming dining room.

American Century Theater
Dr. Cook's Garden
September 9th —October 4th
By Ira Levin
Bea Schmidt: Kathryn Cocroft
Jim Tennyson: JB Bissex
Dora Ludlow: Carol McCaffrey
Elias Hart: Robert Lavery
Leonard "Doc" Cook: David Schmidt
Directed by Ellen Dempsey
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
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Photo: Micah Hutz

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