note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey
"The Doctor's Dilemma" isn't as witty or as clever as Shaw's most popular plays, but it does have at its center a fascinating man and a riveting moral dilemma: Does a doctor have an obligation to save a man he feels is not worth saving?
To update the moral question, when someone --- say Mickey Mantle for example --- needs a liver transplant, should he move to the head of the list because he's a bigger deal than the average Joe? You'll recall that he did --- way ahead of people had been waiting longer --- one assumes because the powers that be judged him ore worthy.
Shaw doesn't stop with a dilemma. He lays out the whole profession with hilarious characters like the surgeon, Dr. Cutler Walpole, who can't wait to open up the entire world's intestines to remove "sacks" of disease (He's played with gangly charm by Ken Cheeseman.). And there's Doctor R.B. Donington who gives "Hamlet" a medical bent with the bloody misquote "the redness is all." (He's portrayed with loopy gusto by Will Lebow.) Jeremy Geidt, too, is superb as the quintessential curmudgeon, and Alvin Epstein is heartbreakingly fragile as an elderly, ailing physician who wishes he were worthy enough to deserve a cure.
John Feltch is the hero of the play's title. But his dilemma is not only that he doesn't like the man demanding treatment: he covets the man's wife. Feltch gives his character a luminous nobility, even when he's not acting very nobly. (It doesn't hurt that he looks a bit like Erroll Flynn either.) It's obvious to all the women "of a certain age" in the audience that Rachel Warren as the coveted wife has chosen the wrong man. Warren is certainly elegant in the role, but it's Laura Napoli who makes more of an impression as a woman spurned.
Shaw delivers lots of food for thought, but Director David Wheeler seems to abandon the play at the end by having the rejected doctor just walk away --- a puzzling anti-climax when you consider he has lost not only his love, but his integrity and his judgement. Perhaps if Riccardo Hernandez' x-ray box set has dissolved the picture into bacteria....or some such had pulled it all together, but having Feltch just unceremoniously leave --- it left the audience unsure the play was over.
So --- Attend the March 5th symposium (free and open to the public) with director David Wheeler and critic Stanley Kauffmann, and perhaps find out why "The Doctor's Dilemma" was denied a strong ending.