Our last interview with a member of the cast of George Bernard Shaw’s “A Doctor’s Dilemma” is Robert Weibezahl. Bob is a veteran actor and author who, along with Paul Panico, founded Panic! Productions, one of Thousand Oaks’ esteemed producers of plays and musicals. He plays one of the meatier roles in the show, which has proved to be a challenge for him in more ways than one.
VCOS: Tell me about the character you play.
BOB: My character is Sir Colenso Ridgeon, a middle-aged doctor who has just been made a knight because of a discovery he’s made about tuberculosis. The play is basically about how every doctor has his own idea about how to cure people. My character is sort of a self-made man. Some of the others are very wealthy, but mine was middle class, very smart, got into medical school based on that and not based on privilege. He’s a researcher and he’s very into the medicine and the science of it. He’s also a bachelor and doesn’t really understand women. So when this younger woman, Jennifer Dubedat, comes to him asking for help for her husband, he falls in love with her. The question in the play that’s never resolved is how Jennifer feels about Dr. Ridgeon. It’s clear at the end how she feels, but throughout, you don’t know how much is my projecting that she is coming on to me – well, they didn’t say that in 1906…
VCOS: But how she is misinterpreting his feelings.
BOB: Right! There are some questions on what her motives are. She clearly wants to save her husband but is she just using her feminine wiles to get this doctor in line? It’s an amazing role. I’m on stage the whole time. It’s the biggest role I’ve ever had. The reason I was happy to be cast in this role is because it is very complicated. Some of the other characters are hilariously funny, but they are very definitely “types.” My character is very much drawn by the interpretation of the actor, and I’m still discovering things about the character.
VCOS: I’m almost thinking that if you added patter songs, you’d have a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.
BOB: Well, it does have some of that, especially the part Dale Alpert is playing, Sir Bonington, which is a hilarious part. He just has these long, pontificating speeches that you almost could set to music.
VCOS: Well, they did it with “Pygmalion,” which was also written by Shaw.
BOB: Exactly. It’s funny you should bring up “Pygmalion,” because if you think about that play, the Eliza/Henry Higgins relationship is also ambiguous as far as a romance goes. There are different motivations, but it’s still that older man/younger woman thing. Men at that time felt very protective of women. It’s not so much that it could be called sexism, but they put women on a pedestal more back then. This woman can probably take care of herself, as Eliza proved herself to do in “My Fair Lady.” So Shaw always has these very interesting female characters that are kind of ahead of their time.
VCOS: A lot of this play is ahead of its time.
BOB: Indeed. The play reflects a lot of social philosophy about helping the poor, which is why these plays are so long (laughs). But the woman’s character is the most enigmatic in the play and she is ahead of her time but by the end of the play, the audience will still be debating her motives.
“A Doctor’s Dilemma” completes its run at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts this weekend. For show times, see our Calendar of Events.