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An Enemy Of The People – Review

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.

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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Race – Review

I (finally) saw David Mamet’s Race this weekend at the fabulous Ethel Barrymore Theatre.  Much has been written about Mamet’s latest plays being “less than Mamet.”  I am not a huge proponent of holding artists to a rigid historical framework, yet went to this production with just a bit of apprehension.  If the critics (professional and water cooler alike) find Mamet’s more recent works to be less explosive and edgy, I would agree.  If they are equating the fading of sizzle and the increase of substance to be an indication of talent slippage, I would disagree.  Race is powerful in the way that Mamet is always powerful.  The use of language is intoxicating, the rhythms hypnotic, and the respect for the audience palpable.  We are made to question the questions posed.  There is subtext that is presented, not pretentiously, but dramatically.  There are elements in the storyline similar to Doubt, and clearly the audience left the theatre in a similar; “did he, didn’t he?” manner.  The cast (in classic Mamet style) is comprised of four characters.  Also, classically Mamet, is the poor female character.  Whether the cartoonishly drawn female has become his intentional hallmark or not, it is there, as predictable as a Hirschfeld “Nina.”

The plot centers around a wealthy white man (Richard Thomas) accused of raping a black woman.  The attorneys considering representing Mr. Thomas are played exquisitely by James Spader and David Alan Grier.  Their assistant is a young woman of color (Kerry Washington.)  Directed by Mr. Mamet, on an old fashioned slanted stage, creating great sight lines and interesting subtext.  Mr. Thomas displays utterly convincing mannerism of the manor born.  There was a moment, when Spader, Grier, and Thomas were on stage together, that I briefly thought of the different decades of pop-culture they represented (In Living Color, Brat Pack, Waltons) but that is entirely my own issue, and not that of the actors or the production!

Ms. Washington is not served by her part or direction.  She is stilted and not believable as a person, let alone a neophyte or con-artist (we’re never sure which.)  Elizabeth Moss was recently able to break out of the Mamet female stranglehold in Speed the Plow.  I would suggest, that Ms Moss is the exception.  The only other distraction in the production is a strange pause between scenes in the second act.  It is not needed dramatically or technically and is just kind of bizarre.

If you love language, if you have any interest in race, politics or sociology, or if you simply love seeing brilliant performances, this is the play for you.  It was entirely refreshing to leave a play feeling intellectually challenged and respected.  The cast could be perceived as interlopers (although all are stage actors) and this could be seen by some as a ‘bold face’ name production.  It did not feel star studded in the least (even William H Macy and his wife, seated in front of me did not disturb the lack of glamorousness of the production.)  Perhaps when all is said and done, I’ll take multi-layered substance over sizzle any day.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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