In addition to my regular drama column for today’s Wall Street Journal, I’ve also reviewed two regional Shaw revivals, The Doctor’s Dilemma in New Hampshire and Saint Joan at the Shaw Festival, in the paper’s online edition. Here’s an excerpt.
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In America, the plays of George Bernard Shaw have been increasingly relegated to summer festivals in recent years. Only six have been revived on Broadway in the past quarter-century—a pitifully small showing for a playwright whose work was once a staple of the commercial theater—and many regional companies also steer clear of their big casts and bristling intellectual challenges. That’s one reason why I hit the road at the end of each Broadway season: Shaw was a supremely great theatrical artist whose plays are both thought-provoking and wonderfully funny, and I’m willing to go far out of my way to see his work done well. Up in New Hampshire, Gus Kaikkonen’s Peterborough Players have a long record of doing very well by Shaw, and their latest production, a rare staging of “The Doctor’s Dilemma,” is distinguished even by their own high standards.
First performed in 1906, “The Doctor’s Dilemma” is an uproariously funny comedy about a deadly serious subject. Sir Colenso Ridgeon (David Haugen), the title character, is a newly knighted London physician who finds himself faced with a horrific either-or choice: Should he save the life of a potentially great painter (William Champion) who’s also a sociopathic rogue, or a good-hearted, ne’er-do-well fellow doctor (Cory Buffaloe) who looks after the poor?…
In addition to staging “The Doctor’s Dilemma” with cracker-crisp precision, Mr. Kaikkonen has put together a ensemble cast as talented as any you’d expect to see on a New York stage….
Tim Carroll, the new artistic director of Canada’s Shaw Festival, has launched his tenure, appropriately enough, with a mainstage production of Shaw’s “Saint Joan,” a masterpiece that is no longer produced professionally with any frequency on this side of the Atlantic. The problem, as is so often the case with great plays that don’t get around much anymore, is that “Saint Joan” is both cripplingly expensive to cast (it has 24 speaking parts) and unusually long (Shaw himself clocked it at three and a half hours). Mr. Carroll has “solved” this problem by cutting the text by an hour, thus allowing him to mount the play with just 16 actors. In addition, it’s being performed in modern dress on a simple, abstract set, staged as an urbane conversation piece all but denuded of high drama. What results is an austere piece of mid-century modernism that would have come across as downright radical back in 1960. Now it feels undemandingly conservative, a bloody tale of martyrdom rendered palatable to the point of politeness….
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Read the whole thing here.
The original theatrical trailer for Anthony Asquith’s 1958 film version of The Doctor’s Dilemma:
A video featurette about Tim Carroll’s Shaw Festival production of Saint Joan: