Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Doctor's Dilemma by George Bernard Shaw

As the curtain rises in The Doctor’s Dilemma by George Bernard Shaw, the eminent doctor Colenso Ridgeon has just received word that he has been knighted, and all his friends in the medical profession come by his house to congratulate him. Sir Patrick Cullen, Mr. Cutter Walpole, Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington, Dr. Blenkinsop,, and Dr. Leo Schutzmacher are welcomed into Sir Colenso’s infirmary for a lively discussion of advances in medical science. Ninety-five percent of all disease is the result of blood poisoning, says Walpole. Stimulating the phagocytes is the best cure, any antitoxin will do, is Sir Ralph’s belief. Sir Patrick claims that he saw all the new cures thirty years ago. It is a lively discussion; Sir Colenso could not possibly find time to see the woman in the waiting room – but then he does.

Jennifer Dubedat’s husband Louis has tuberculosis, and she comes to Sir Colenso with a plea to save him, but the newly knighted doctor says that he has room in his clinic for only ten patients, which he has already chosen – ten people whose lives are worth saving. He could not possibly add another, he says, until she shows him Louis’ wonderful drawings. Perhaps he can make room for him. Then Sir Colenso learns that his friend Blenkinsop also needs treatment. Who should he save? Who is most worthy of being saved?

George Bernard Shaw and his socialist views were so well known by the time of the staging of The Doctor’s Dilemma in 1906 that he was able to incorporate a joke about himself to please the audience. Following his success with Major Barbara, he took aim at the hypocrisy of British physicians in the new play. He also characterized the young artist as a scoundrel, who rejects conventional moralities, but with good reasons for doing so; the audience is left uncertain whether to admire or dislike him – it is the audience’s dilemma.

I listened to The Doctor’s Dilemma on compact discs from LA Theatre Works, which staged the play with an audience for radio. I likes it so well I listened a second time. It would be a great addition to public library audio collections.

Shaw, George Bernard. The Doctor’s Dilemma. Los Angeles: LA Theatre Works, p2000. 2 discs.

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