Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Doctor's Dilemma"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark


"The Doctor's Dilemma"

by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by David Wheeler

Sound Design by David Remedios
Set Design by Riccardo Hernandez
Lighting Design by John Ambrosone
Costume Design by Catherine Zuber
Stage Manager Thomas M Kauffman

Redpenny.....................................Scott Draper
Emmy..........................................Sarah deLima
Jennifer Dubedat........................Rachel Warren
Sir Colenso Ridgeon........................John Feltch
Leo Schutzmacher........................Remo Airaldi
Sir Patrick Cullen..........................Jeremy Geidt
Cutler Walpole..........................Ken Cheeseman
Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington.......Will Lebow
Dr. Blenkinsop..............................Alvin Epstein
Louis Dubedat.................................Sean Dugan
Minnie Tinwell...............................Laura Napoli
Waiter/ Mr. Danby.....................Frederick Hood
The Newspaper Man.......................Nick Newell

In "The Doctor's Dilemma" George Bernard Shaw combines two arguments over medical ethics --- one comic, the other deadly. Six medical men (one is a surgeon, and in England surgeons aren't doctors) assemble here to consult on a tuberculosis case, all disagreeing dogmatically about diagnoses and treatments. Their cavalier discussion is peppered with references to "patients we have killed" by mistakes --- but one of their number can treat only ten experimental cases, and knows ignoring an eleventh will condemn that man to death. Who will it be?

One of the candidates is an old General Practitioner (Alvin Epstein) who works for peanuts but brings comfort (if not up-to-date medicinal science) to the poor. The other (Sean Dugan) is a typical Shavian iconoclast --- a gifted artist with absolutely no morals whatever. And there is one additional complication: the one doctor who knows he can save the artist's life (John Feltch) has fallen at first sight in love with the artist's beautiful wife (Rachel Warren). Should he give a long life to a great painter, or rid the world of a selfish mountebank --- simply by doing nothing?

Riccardo Hernandez' three-quarter-thrust set puts the action on an enormous x-ray plate, with an identically huge plate as a background on which may be projected diseased lungs, an encyclopedia entry on consumption, Big Ben, and images of paintings. This antiseptic set emphasizes the academic purity of the argument here, and Director David Wheeler emphasizes this clinical abstraction by spotting doctors in all four corners of the rectangle. At one point Wheeler and Shaw have a quartet of quacks, each insisting his own is the only possible right answer. Epstein, Will Lebow, Jeremy Geidt, Remo Airaldi, and Ken Cheeseman each tackle their parts with out-of-the-hat shtick that is equally abstract. (Will Lebow's is the one with Shaw's funniest lines.)

Rachel Warren as the all-forgiving, deluded wife wears Catherine Zuber's 1910 dresses wondrously, and her dance --- verbally as well as physically --- with Feltch's dilemma-afflicted doctor is delightful. But the argument raging around these two is curiously flat, and ends in curiously down-beat inconclusiveness. The audience on press-night apparently thought the show so funny they could barely keep from smiling. Despite the antiseptic set, the show deserved a more enthusiastic response.

The only really jarring note is the contrast between the flatly realistic sketches and Anne Beresford's squiggly semi-abstract oils, none of which are worth the insistent praise Shaw's characters heap on the works from Sean Dugan's supposedly promising painter. It's indifference to detail such as this that makes this A.R.T. production less than it could be.

Love,
===Anon.


"The Doctor's Dilemma" (till 14 March)
American Repertory Theatre
Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE
1(617)547-8300


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