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NY1 Theater Review: "An Enemy Of The People"

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The Manhattan Theatre Club debuts a new version of Ibsen's 1882 play "An Enemy of the People" starring Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following theater review.

Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy Of The People" feels way ahead of its time. 130 years later, we're debating very similar issues - environmental pollution and the downside of majority rules. The play, in a new streamlined version by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is a far cry from the stodgy costume drama you might expect. And in the Manhattan Theatre Club's corker of a production, it tingles with energy and relevance.

Director Doug Hughes ratchets up the action to achieve a kind of melodramatic hyperreality. In a Norwegian coastal town, the mayor Peter Stockmann is a shrewd bureaucrat, and by his snidely whiplash getup you can tell he's the villain. His idealistic brother, Thomas, is the medical director of a new spa resort featuring therapeutic baths.

Everyone's imagining the riches the baths will wash in until Dr. Stockmann discovers that the water is polluted and highly toxic. Naively assuming he'll be celebrated as a hero for uncovering the health hazard, he is shocked to find everyone suddenly turns against him. Self-interest here trumps the public good.

And while the good guys and bad line up quite neatly, the debate is somewhat more complex. In the play's riveting climax, Dr. Stockmann blasts the democratic system that allows the ignorant majority to overrule the enlightened few.

The actors tend to emote in stereotypical ways and it can be rather cartoonish, albeit entertaining. The dim-witted flunkie and the rich, old crackpot, for example, are played to the hilt by Gerry Bamman and Michael Siberry. Richard Thomas scores with a more subdued approach. But it's Boyd Gaines' take on the endearingly flawed protagonist that enables us to find the humanity within Ibsen's outsized characters.

After he finished the play, Ibsen commented that he couldn't decide if it was a comedy or drama. In this rousing production, it turns out to be both.

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