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Shows Worth Seeing:

An Enemy of the People
By Henrik Ibsen
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 W. 47th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200

“So this play was written, what, two weeks ago?” quipped a guy behind me as I was leaving An Enemy of the People. Quite a compliment for any 140-year-old work, let alone a flagrantly melodramatic problem play closer in tone to Augier and Dumas fils than to the subtle, slow-build social tragedies for which Ibsen is usually praised. Enemy tells the harrowing tale of Dr. Thomas Stockmann, a physician in a spa town who discovers that the supposedly healing waters are poisoned and is denounced for his truth-telling by his hypocritical neighbors. The play contains a screed about the moral rot beneath capitalism, a warning to whistle-blowers, and a startlingly prescient description of the psychology of today’s global-warming deniers. It does not, for all that, contain particularly subtle characterizations apart from the fascinating title character.

Director Doug Hughes has wisely let the work’s furious contours set the pace and mood of his production. British dramatist Rebecca Lenkiewicz has smartly streamlined the text so that it sweeps relentlessly forward. Boyd Gaines as Thomas Stockmann is allowed to puff, sputter, bluster and even stomp onto a tabletop at one point, but he doesn’t neglect to show how egotism and arrogance contribute to his character’s downfall while indulging in his outbursts. Richard Thomas as Peter Stockmann, Thomas’s priggish brother and the town’s mayor, does an excellent job fleshing out his stiff character but he also clearly understands that a bit of pure villainy is crucial to the play’s chemistry. When the audience boos him at the curtain call, he grins ear to ear. Enemy of the People is indeed as timely as it gets with modern drama at the moment, which may be dreadful news for the world but it’s splendid news for the theater.



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