Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas sparring with seething and faltering restraint may be the finest five minutes on Broadway this year. There is a moment so powerful that the full house holds its collective breath. What good fortune that there is more than five glorious minutes to An Enemy Of The People.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz has adapted this Henrik Ibsen play, which was previously adapted by Arthur Miller. While there are many sparks of modernity in the dialogue it is still clearly Ibsen’s treatises. Mr. Gaines’ Dr. Thomas Stockmann is the voice of the playwright, driven by his pursuit of truth in black and white. Mr. Thomas plays his brother and town mayor Peter Stockmann. The mayor has an enormous investment in the small town’s baths business. He is also the benevolent benefactor arranging for his brother’s employment with the baths’ administration. The bohemian medical brother with his boisterous family is in stark contrast to the restrained top hat and walking stick mayoral brother. Their differences grow starker as the good doctor receives confirmation of his suspicions of water contamination in the baths. It is then that all hell breaks loose.
Many will experience the positions and platforms of journalism, politics and economics to be achingly timely, but in fact they are timeless. The shifting positions and arguments sound excruciatingly familiar but that is because they never change. The masses are not necessarily equipped to lead. Truth may feel more important than commerce, but eating is important. Loudly chanting rhetoric doesn’t make the rhetoric true. People tend to worship the one wearing the fanciest hat. Where these powerful themes fall short is in their obvious biographical nature. It becomes challenging during some of the more heated tirades to see past an angry playwright. The ending moment of the production reinforces this response.
It is through the powerful and nuanced performances which include; Gerry Bamman(Alaksen,) Michael Siberry (Morton,) John Procaccino (Hovstad) that the whole becomes flawless. Directed elegantly by Doug Hughes, the characters and action seem to float. The staging and sound (David Van Tieghem) of the town meeting scene is simply fantastic. The audience, with very little fanfare, seamlessly morphs into the townspeople. We are not just being told how mob mentality develops we experience it firsthand. John Lee Beatty’s set is starkly apt and very cleverly designed. It’s less of a set and more of a world.
This Manhattan Theatre Club production should be seen for the very fine performances, intriguing themes, splendid production, and believe it or not; the laughs.