THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA Play by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Larry Carpenter. At the Roundabout Theatre through Feb. 18. The Roundabout Theatre Company is mounting a spirited and generally attractive production of ``The Doctor's Dilemma.'' When the play premi`ered in 1906, Shaw described it as ``a tragic comedy, with death conducting the orchestra. Yet the play is funnier than most farces.''
The comedy remains, even though its original associations with real-life people and circumstances are recalled today by few others than Shaw biographers and scholars. Shaw's witty attacks on a power elite as well as his examination of romantic illusions and the relationship (if any) between genius and moral integrity have not dated. The tragic comedy retains its power to amuse and stimulate and even to move.
``The Doctor's Dilemma'' opens as Sir Colenso Ridgeon (Charles Keating) is receiving visits from fellow medical men who have come to congratulate him on the knighthood bestowed for his now fashionable cure for tuberculosis. In the convivial atmosphere, the author introduces typical members of what he regarded as the medical trade union.
Each of the visitors espouses some particular form of treatment. They include the ebullient Sir Bloomfield ``B.B.'' Bonington (Jerome Kelty), who confidently believes that science can explain everything; surgically minded Cutler Walpole (Ian Stuart); poor man's Dr. Blenkinsop (Gregg Almquist); Leo Schutzmaccher (Victor Raider-Wexler), who places his faith in phosphates; and Sir Patrick Cullen (George Hall), a senior skeptic, who announces that ``most discoveries are made regularly every 15 years.''
Waiting below is Jennifer Dubedat (Anne Newhall), desperately hoping that Ridgeon will grant her an appointment and agree to treat her tubercular husband. Her persistence finally wins an interview with the great man, who responds to Louis Dubedat's artistic talents and more particularly to Jennifer herself.
The doctors arrange a dinner at which they may all become acquainted with the young couple. They soon discover that Dubedat (Graham Winton) is a talented scoundrel and scrounger. Whereupon Ridgeon decides that accepting him would displace the worthy Blenkinsop, who is similarly afflicted.
``The Doctor's Dilemma'' ends with an encounter between Ridgeon and Jennifer at the posthumous exhibition held four months after Dubedat's death.
The practical-minded widow has already followed her late husband's advice by remarrying. In any case, she curtly informs the smitten Ridgeon he would have been too old for her. Both Shaw and Jennifer administer the coup de grace.
Notwithstanding his protagonist role, there is also something of the observer in Ridgeon, a circumstance further evidenced in Larry Carpenter's direction and Mr. Keatings's restrained and, at times, aloof performance. Miss Newhall is crisply intent as the strong-minded Jennifer, and Mr. Winton makes a very juvenile Dubedat, to the last a mocker of conventionality though scarcely the man of genius Shaw apparently intended. Among the medical men, Mr. Kilty has a jolly time as the ebulliently bouncing ``B.B.''
The production is usefully served in lesser roles by Avril Gentles as Ridgeon's dragonish housekeeper, Cate McNider as Dubedat's deserted wife, and Adam LeFevre as Shaw's caricature of a boorish journalist. Adam Redfield doubles handily as Ridgeon's secretary and the proprietor of the art gallery where Sir Colenso and Jennifer meet for the last time.