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A CurtainUp berkshires Review
An Enemy of the People
By Elyse Sommer
Hampton's adaptation does get away from the long de rigeur 1950 one by Arthur Miller, which made the non-conformist Stockmann a combination of John Proctor of The Crucible and Miller himself in relation to the anti-Communist witch hunts. It is clear, contemporary and punctuated with humor. And Mandy Patinkin, nowadays best known for his live and recorded songs and also for his roles in musicals such as Falsettos and The Wild Party, is ingratiating as the lonely rebel pitted against the often referred to "solid majority."
When we first meet him, Stockmann is happily surrounded by family and friends. These include Hovstad, the newspaper editor (well played by T. Scott Cunningham), who epitomizes the liberal media man's dilemma of squaring his convictions with his need to please his readers, and Aslaksen, the head of the home owner's association (the always reliable Peter Maloney), who as a "graduate of the school of life" lives by the principle of moderation (in other words, compromise). Stockmann, long away from his home town and economically at loose ends, now basks in the glow of having hatched a plan for a health spa that is reinvigorating his and the town's fortunes.
The crux of the play revolves around Stockmann's discovery that the local mills have turned the restorative bath waters into a poison stream -- and the opposition of everyone, including his brother, the town's mayor (Larry Pine) to paying the price (taxes to pay for cleaning up the pollution, bad publicity and lost business).
Patinkin's gets and takes hold of his chance to make a meal of the scenery in the big post-intermission scene. Here's where he likens the townspeople's disappointing reaction to his insistence on dealing with the polluted health spa at any cost to a " moral swamp." Mr. Freedman turns the meal into a banquet by sending the ensemble players down the aisles to add a side dish of appropriately boisterous voices and sound effects from the rear of the theater.
This dramatic sturm and drang not withstanding, this production somehow lacks the spark it ignited when Hampton's version of Enemy was directed by Trevor Nunn in London and starred Ian McKellen. Mr. Freedman's push of the envelope with the now-as-then connection with the device of mounting the play as a technical dress rehearsal comes off as a visually confusing conceit. It's a device that doesn't work especially well. The shattered glass windows are a too obvious foreshadowing of an already predictable outcome, another symbol in an play already charged with symbolism.
Hampton's text aims for less polemics and more of the human dilemma of a well-meaning man whose thinking is too dogmatic to persuade people to do the right thing but instead leads to their denouncing him as an "enemy of the people." There are glimpses of this in Stockmann's sexist attitude towards his practical wife (Annalee Jeffries), with him at one time telling her to go back to take care of the house and let him take care of the town and in his grandiose declaration to let everyone in a country based on a lie "be exterminated. " But glimpses aren't enough to carry the often repetitious verbiage. Despite Patinkin's and Larry Pine's creditable performances, their characters' long-standing sibling animosity is not sufficiently realized for the domestic, human drama to carry the day.
Ibsen earned his tag as the Father of Modern Drama with a solid and provocative body of work, that is deservedly revived and newly translated periodically. Since my most recent encounters with his work, including a very complete Ibsen Series in the historic ballroom of the Century Center Off-Broadway, have not included An Enemy of the People, I appreciate this opportunity to see his latest translation on stage -- even though flawed by trying too hard to appear to be torn from the headlines and, at almost three hours, a test of even the most ardent Ibsen fan's patience sitzfleisch.
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