Oscar E Moore

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AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE: old play + new translation = politics as usual at MTC

October 2nd, 2012 by Oscar E Moore

“Restraint” is a word that is peppered throughout the new translation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE by Rebecca Lenkiewicz which is MTC’s newest production at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

We hear the word over and over again.  Unfortunately, restraint has not been used by director Doug Hughes who has unleashed his actors and advised them to go full throttle in this uneven and cold rendering of this updated politics as usual play which is both dramatic in a melodramatic way and at times quite amusing but had me fighting to become involved.

It stars Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas as the brothers Stockmann – Dr. Thomas (Gaines), a full of life and hyper energetic scientist who desperately wants to tell the truth about the toxic waters he has discovered that are polluting the soon to be famous spa that will bring untold riches to the town and Peter (Thomas) the cunning, stiff and smarmy Mayor of this small coastal Norwegian town who wants to keep his brother’s discovery secret.  The two couldn’t be any different in thought or manner.

At first the Dr. is supported by Billing (James Waterston) a reporter of the local newspaper – The People’s Messenger, its editor Hovstad (John Procacccino) and Aslaksen who is a printer (Gerry Bamman who all but steals the thunder from the two featured stars).  But then the Almighty dollar rears its greedy head. For if the truth is told financial ruin will be the fate of the town.

And so they all turn against him.  But he is a fighter – a strong and loud, stubborn and sometimes maniacal fighter who would risk losing everything in order for the truth to be known.   Will he?

This version is much shorter than previous productions.  And that’s a good thing.  As mentioned, the acting is somewhat over the top with screaming matches that sometimes take on the look of a “Silent Movie” – gestures signaling the spoken words of the arguments.

Petra (Maite Alina) the Dr’s daughter wishes she were a man so that she could better support her father.  His wife Catherine (Kathleen McNenny) doesn’t want to lose the financial security that she has finally been able to find and worries about her two other children (unseen).  Her wealthy father Morten Kiil (Michael Siberry) is the owner of a tannery that has caused the pollution – further complicating matters.  Their friend Captain Horster (Randall Newsome) is on his way to America and that sounds good to them all – up to a point.

With this fresh translation there are sometimes words that are too modern for the period and there is a smorgasbord of accents to go around.  We do not know if we are in Norway or Texas.  If we are back then or in the here and now.  It’s all very haphazard.

Another excellent set has been provided by John Lee Beatty.  There are some disappointing costumes by the usually excellent Catherine Zuber.  In particular, the outfit designed for the Mayor that has him looking very much like Reginald Van Gleason III.


Photos:  Joan Marcus

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