Classics in the Park’s production of “The Doctor’s Dilemma” opens Saturday night for a two-weekend run at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts. Written by George Bernard Shaw in 1906, the show is a satire on the medical profession that is prescient to the national health insurance debate that is still going on today. We spoke about the show to its director, Theresa Secor, prior to a dress rehearsal. Theresa has been involved in theater in the Conejo Valley for over 30 years. She started as a performer in the children’s theater and has been constantly involved ever since. Theresa recently directed Panic! Productions’ “All My Sons.”
VCOS: So who decided on staging this play?
Theresa: It was picked by Michael Jordan, the producer. There was originally another director tied to it but she left right about the time they were starting rehearsals. So I got the frantic phone call (laughs).
VCOS: Did you have to familiarize yourself with it?
Theresa: I did. I hadn’t read it before that. So I quickly read the play and said to myself, “Yeah, this is fun.” In a nutshell, five or six doctors get together – they are friends, and they all work on the same street in London in the early 1900s. One of them is a surgeon who is treated like the red-headed stepchild, if you will. Then there’s a very, very old doctor who likes to do things “the old way.” The new doctors are all about “science will solve everything,” but they don’t really understand the science, so they keep making these grandiose statements and it’s a lot of fun listening to them because it ties in so well with what’s going on in medical services and science today. The person who is the major patient makes a lot of comments about how he can’t afford health insurance. The doctors end up betting with each other who will take on Louis Dubedat, who is an artist suffering from tuberculosis.
VCOS: And what is he like?
Theresa: Dubedat is not a terribly likable person because he likes to manipulate people, borrows lots of money and never pays it back. Doctors could only have ten patients at a time, so the “dilemma” is, should this doctor, whose name is Dr. Ridgeon, help Dubedat, who makes beautiful drawings but is kind of a rotten human being, or should he help this other person who, although he is a great human being, really doesn’t add anything to society. Then you add to that a subplot where Dr. Ridgeon falls in love with the artist’s wife, so the Hippocratic oath just flies right out the window.
VCOS: How relevant is this play to today’s debate over national health insurance?
Theresa: I think it’s very relevant. There are a lot of comments in the play that really stick it to not only the medical profession itself but to gullible lay people who believe anything that a faddist will say. It talks about a lot of fads that are going on at that time.
VCOS: Does this whole thing reflect Shaw’s own points of view?
Theresa: It would seem to. There are a couple of speeches that get very direct and to the point. The comedy is in the banter between all the doctors.
VCOS: Tell me about the cast.
Theresa: Michael Jordan plays the “old school” doctor. Robert Weibezahl plays Dr. Ridgeon, who has discovered a cure for tuberculosis. He has the dilemma of trying to decide whether to help this beautiful woman’s husband that nobody likes or help his friend. Jim Bukowski plays a surgeon that everybody teases because he’s not a really a doctor, he just cuts people up (laughs). Dale Alpert plays Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington, who is called B. B., and we refer to him as the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon of the group. His clientele is very upper crust and he kind of throws things at at his patients and hopes that it works. Lori Merkleford plays Jennifer, the wife of Louis Dubedat, the artist, who is played by Patrick Beckstead.
VCOS: How long is the show playing?
Theresa: We have two weekends here at the Hillcrest Center. Then the next weekend we have one performance at the Greystone Manor in Beverly Hills.
“The Doctor’s Dilemma” plays at the Theater on the Hill at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts. The performances are outdoors, so bring appropriate clothing because it can get chilly at the evening performances. Visit our Calendar of Events for dates and showtimes.