An Enemy of the People

  • Our critic's rating:
    September 1, 2012
    Review by:
    Tulic McCall

    (Review by Tulic McCall)

    Well this is a splendid production. And it is in no small thanks to Rebecca Lenkiewicz whose script has made the heady transition from the 19th century Norwegian into English vernacular without losing any of the delicacy and punch of Ibsen’s writing. The production is also enormously enhanced by an astonishing set by John Lee Beatty who has taken this stage and turned it into another world. Add actors of this caliber collaborating with the skills of Doug Hughes – it’s pretty much a done deal.

    Dr. Thomas Stockman (Boyd Gaines) is full of himself. Life, in the form of his brother Peter (Richard Thomas), has brought him back to his hometown in Norway to practice medicine. It is the 1880’s and the town has recently invested in mineral baths that are all the rage. Stockman, being a man of science first and foremost, must look a gift horse in the mouth. He just must. And when he does he discovers that the baths are contaminated by the spill off coming from his father-in-law’s tannery. This is a calamity that can be corrected, and he gives the joyful news to his wife Catherine (Kathleen McNenny), daughter Petra (Maïté Alin) as well as his liberal friends, the newspaper publisher Hovstad (John Procaccino) and his associate Billing (James Waterston). He then sends the news to his brother with great expectations.

    The first one to crumble is his brother, who with clarity and precision explains that this news would mean closing the baths and therefore the end of the town. In addition, any cost associated with the needed redirecting the water flow would be born by a tax on the citizens, not by the stockholders of the baths. Gradual reform is best, even at the cost of the lives that will be destroyed by the poison in the baths. No matter that. The reality is simple.

    Against this Thomas stands resolute, even in the face of the fact that the first to be sacrificed, should this news escape, would be Thomas and his family. He will lose his job and be unable to care for his family.

    Thomas, who knows what is true and what is right, carries on. Soon he watches nearly everyone around him crumble under the weight of the mayor’s thumb. He is ultimately alone, and we know it.

    What is thrilling about this piece is – not that there is anything new there – the way in which we are pulled in to the predicament of the opposing forces. We are sucked in like fish on a line. The end of the first act, when Catherine confronts Thomas, is shattering. Both people love one another and are at the same time locked in a fight that is literally life and death. It is a scene of staggering proportions.

    Less staggering but more sinister are the scenes where we see the sausage being made. Ibsen takes us through the web of deceit and betrayal with such an intimate touch that we can not only understand, but actually feel how the threads weave around one another. This is not just a play that is apt for an election season, although the audience literally gasps at the parallels; it is a play for all time.

    You don’t walk out pointing fingers after seeing this production. You walk out looking into the mirror. On that stage go we all!

    "High-intensity, high-volume production. ... Ibsen’s potent play reaches a rapid boil in the seething confrontation between the brothers that concludes the first act. It rarely simmers down for the rest of the evening. "
    Charles Isherwood for NY Times

    "Screaming isn’t always the best way to present an argument — or a play."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News

    "Up until intermission, 'An Enemy of the People' seems like your run-of-the-mill Roundabout period revival. ... So you settle into your seat, ready for an innocuous, snoozy night out. But it’s another story after the break. With the exposition out of the way, it feels as if somebody had applied defibrillator paddles to the show and shocked it into life."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "An insightful work about the cost of free expression, into a coherent, topical, and thrilling piece that pokes and prods at our own moral fiber. Expertly realized by director Doug Hughes, the production succeeds on merit instead of flashiness or celebrity"
    Suzy Evans for Back Stage

    "It was jarring to attend such a stiff and dusty version of the 1882 play."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "John Lee Beatty’s handsome settings for 'An Enemy of the People' feature acres of knotty pine – and the rest of Manhattan Theatre Club’s production looks terribly wooden as well. ... ..a surprisingly crude effort."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Clearly, MTC has lucked out with its timing of this classic drama, its Victorian-era polemics ordinarily a bit simplistic -- but given the peculiar insanity of election politics, right on the money."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Variety