The Doctor's Dilemma



  • George Bernard Shaw's tragicomedy satirizing the medicalprofession, first performed in 1906 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.When a 1941 Broadway revival starring Katharine Cornell was a greathit the 85-year-old Shaw gave his permission for a London revivalat the Haymarket starring Vivien Leigh. Shaw told the producerthat the role of the doctor's wife was a difficult one. "JenniferDubedat is the sort of woman I really dislike," he said. "Perhapsyou'll warn the young lady of this." In the event, the problemwas the leading man, Cyril Cusack. Feeling ill after a few drinksone evening, Cusack forgot his lines and began quoting from the onlyplay he could recall, Synge's The Playboy of the Western World.The audience did not realize that anything was amiss but Vivien Leighwas horrified. When the nervous understudy, Geoffrey Edwards, wascalled for, he was so unprepared that he had to read his part on stage.Cusack was dropped.

    Despite these problems, the production was a success, largelyowing to Leigh's recent fame from Gone With the Wind - a film that Shaw refused to see on the grounds that "Life istoo short. I really can't afford to waste four hours of it watchinga young woman winning the American Civil War single-handed."

    After Tyrone Guthrie saw Michael Langham's 1947 revival ofthe play, he noted, "All you can do with Shaw is to fan theactors out in a semicircle, put the speaker at the top, and hope forthe best."

    The story, set in London in 1903, concerns Jennifer Dubedat,whose husband, Louis, is dying of consumption. The family doctor,Sir Colenso Ridgeon, decides to treat a fellow doctor instead of Dubedatand hands the case to a colleague, who administers the wrong injection,killing the patient. Ridgeon subsequently admits to Jennifer thathe refused to treat her husband because he hoped to marry her afterhis death. She reacts furiously and informs him that, at her husband'slast request, she has already remarried.