Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, readapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz at Manhattan Theatre Club, makes a fine prototype of politics, corruption and power as it gives voice to the real cost of freedom of speech. To go forth with integrity and truth is a dangerous business.
Pitting brother against brother, the story sees Dr. Thomas Stockman, the exuberant, lively Tony Award Winner Boyd Gaines, (undeniable scene stealer that he is) as a medical officer, somewhere in a small town in Norway, who seeks truth and justice, uncovering the fact that the baths in the spa town in which he was born, are contaminated with toxic bacteria. The baths are the mainstay of revenue as tourists flock to its waters. The pipes that were laid were done so as to allow contamination from the local tannery, owned by his father-in-law, a well played character part by Michael Siberry, to flow into the baths. Thomas’s brother, Peter Stockman, is the corrupt Mayor of the town, a stern and austere Richard Thomas in top hat and cane.
Thomas talks of rich magistrates who dictate to the people, as ancient bigots, saying that the poor need a voice. Thinking he has the liberal local paper on his side, he appeals to his friends Billing (James Waterston) and Hovstad (John Procaccino) to print the report, all under the eye of the paper’s printer Aslaksen, an amusing Gerry Bamman, a man who proclaims “restraint and moderation,” and also gets a lot of laughs in the process.
Dr. Stockman’s wife, Catherine played by Kathleen McNenny, endeavors to assuage his anger appealing to him saying he is putting his family at risk if he loses his position (already threatened by his brother). His daughter Petra, (newcomer Maite Alina) is a bright young woman who stands at his side against his accusers.
Fear, stupidity and corruption prevail as a hero is turned into a villain and Dr. Stockman is accused as an Enemy of the People at a town meeting, orchestrated by his brother and his turncoat friends, the actors entering this scene through the center aisle to the stage and the audience becoming the townspeople at the meeting.
It’s all about money and power (sound familiar!) as he vows to continue his quest for truth against the pseudo-politicians and a brother who always wanted to control. His message to the people “the majority are the deadliest . . . encouraging stagnation,” calling Hofstad a closeted free thinker. His last words ringing true: “the strongest man is always alone.”
Deftly directed by Doug Hughes, with costumes by Catherine Zuber and a turn-table set by John Lee Beatty, “An Enemy of the People” could be a modern day message regarding the political arena in which we now find ourselves. There may be a lot of yelling but this is a very worthwhile production. The play continues through November 11th at MTC on West 47th Street, NYC.