BWW Reviews: APT's A DOCTOR'S DILEMMA Dissects Truths to Life and Death

"I can't afford to save my life," Dr. Blenkinsop tells a cadre of more successful physicians in George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma. Spring Green's American Players Theatre presents Shaw's riveting drama at the Up the Hill Theatre this fall, a diverting play that discusses contemporary medical issues even though written over 100 years ago. In Shaw's play, Blenkinsop represents a physician who serves the less fortunate in London society, and when he himself becomes sick, has few means or time to cure his patients, much less himself.

In this century, 2014, those words continue to be familiar to society's ears. A superlative APT company under the stellar direction of Aaron Posner casts five doctors to debate an impasse to who they should save; ie, which individual or person is worth saving and then who they can afford to treat, thus saving the person's life.. A beautiful young wife, Jennifer Dubedat, begs Sir Colenso Ridgeon to cure her artist husband from tuberculosis when Ridgeon has recently discovered a cure for consumption, which must be administered at the correct time for this treatment to be effective, otherwise the medicine kills the patient.

Competition and egotism between the physicians creates critical dialogue laced with poignant humor, often very funny, that could easily be updated by surgical scrub costumes and technologically correct dialogue. The physicians verbally dissect these dilemmas, instead of merely one dilemma, throughout the performance. As Shaw believed, "We've [society] not given up our faith in God, we've transferred it to the medical profession."

As the lead doctor representing the medical profession, Brian Mani adds a serene dignity and yet humble overconfidence to Sir Colenso Ridgeon, the doctor recently knighted for his tuberculosis cure. He's fallen in love with Abbey Siegworth's feisty, stylish Jennifer Dubedat. Ridgeon foolishly forgets his dreams may differ from Jennifer's, when he first accepts and then refuses to treat her husband, Louis, from advanced tuberculosis, sending him to a colleague of his who often "misunderstands" the radical new treatment.

Ridgeon's colleagues Paul Bentzen's Sir Patrick Cullen, John Taylor Phillips' Mr. Cutler Walpole, John Pribyl's Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonnington and David Daniel's endearing Dr. Blenkinsop endlessly go round and round in their discourse of these medical situations, all distracted by the charms of Jennifer, including the surgeon who believes every disease might be blood poisoning. When Blenkinsop develops consumptive symptoms, the choice to who receives Ridgeon's healing treatment becomes more complex.

While the audience perceives the play from a London doctor's consulting room in June 1903, directed in a delightful cameo of Emmy played by Sarah Day, they realize the discussions remain almost identical, edited from the online news: Who should get the Ebola medicine to be cured? That question crystallizes into who today can access affordable health care, affordable research or affordable treatments? After listening to these doctors' dilemmas, who should receive these benefits and treatments, or for what costs? Even when these doctors, as shown in the current Ebola crisis, become sick themselves?

To complicate the issues further, Samuel Taylor as Louis Dubedat and his wife Jennifer, again a luminous Siegworth, depict several artistic conundrums, especially when they illustrate the life and death days a couple, or one person, experience. Taylor gives the audience a compelling picture, on stage, of these timeless moments. When Louis dies as a result of the new treatment provided by another physician, unexpected consequences ensue.

Interestingly, on opening night the performance was stopped in the first act for a medical emergency. An ambulance needed to be called, an example of how often "life imitates art," a philosophy espoused by the great Oscar Wilde, an apt connection to this production. Today, listening to the conversation in a café, a woman used Flight for Life, the medical helicopter, to carry her to the hospital where she had emergency open heart surgery...But then, her husband was a physician, she was a nurse, they knew what to do and where to go. Divine miracle or medical miracle and then why was she still here, living, so grateful to tell her story, when others have been less fortunate?

This timeless playwright Shaw combined with Wilde's unique philosophical truths, push the limits of life and art through the drama and humor of the theater. APT's amazing productions, through their actors and stage technicians, constantly challenge their audiences by bringing the best of classical theatre to Spring Green. In producing an exceptional The Doctor's Dilemma, the drama revisits humanity's burning health concerns, so society can discover a time when they will stop hearing,, "I can't afford to save my life."

American Players Theatre presents George Bernard Shaw's "A Doctor's Dilemma" through October. For information, special programming or tickets, please call: 608.588.2361 or

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan


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