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Monday, 15 October 2012 20:50

Broadway Review: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE

Written by
Kathleen McNenny, Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas (l-r) Kathleen McNenny, Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas (l-r) Photo: Joan Marcus

The Manhattan Theatre Club revival of Henrik Ibsen’s  An Enemy of the People is riveting in its relevancy.  Lynne Meadow’s decision to do this piece at this time shows keen foresight. As the country gears up for an election that is remarkable in its contrast between the haves and the have-nots, An Enemy of the People speaks directly to our time through man’s fickleness, gullibility and willingness to go along to get along.

It is the story of two brothers, Dr. Thomas Stockman (Boyd Gaines) and Peter Stockmann (Richard Thomas).  The action takes place in a coastal town in southern Norway which has hinged its success on its newly built baths, championed by the two men.  Trouble rears its head when the doctor discovers that the water is tainted from the runoff of a nearby tannery.  

This adaptation by Rebecca Lenkiewicz is lean and quick, aided by Doug Hughes’ rapid fire direction; but it is plagued by small niggling inconsistencies and annoyances.  It is hard to believe that the character of Dr. Stockman could possibly be so naive as to think that his news would be met with thanks and praise. His brother, the mayor, has called the baths "the life blood of our community."  While initially supporting his mission, members of the town have an abrupt about face when they are told it is they, the average working guy, that will be left bearing the burden of the cost of the necessary improvements.  Ms. Lenkiewicz also sneaks in some more contemporary references that give one pause, like one of the characters referring to himself as a “closet” free thinker.

When Dr. Stockman tries to convince his brother through scientific tests, that he must close down the baths for the sake of the public’s health, the Mayor responds in anger, “the world doesn’t revolve around your science, it’s about the money.”  Doesn’t that have a ring of familiarity?

While Ibsen’s play tackles relevant social issues, it’s not without some funny one-liners.  Ibsen found himself conflicted as to whether the play was a comedy or drama.  Writing to his publisher after finishing the play, "I am still uncertain as to whether I should call it a comedy or a straight drama. It may [have] many traits of comedy, but it also is based on a serious idea."  

Gaines gives a frenetic performance, assured in his conviction that what he is doing is right.  As the mayor, Thomas gives a believable performance even though the role is not much more than a card-board cutout of a stock villain.  Other terrific performances in this play include Gerry Bamman as the slow, deliberate and funny Aslaksen, a printer at a local paper where Dr. Stockman is having his essays about the baths published.  Michael Siberry as the feisty owner of the tannery, Morten Kill, is funny and just a bit creepy.

An Enemy of the People was written by Ibsen in 1882 but proves it has timeless themes.  This production gives them a fresh and relevant airing worthy of your attention.

Additional Info

  • Theatre: Samuel J. Friedman
  • Theatre Address: 261 West 47th St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: September 4, 2012
  • Opening Night: September 27, 2012
  • Closing: November 11, 2012
Last modified on Monday, 15 October 2012 21:02