Theater review: "An Enemy of the People"

Political play still resonates with modern audience


It‘s been a long time since Boyd Gaines first appeared on television as the boyfriend of Valerie Bertinelli on the sit-com “One Day at A Time.” Now more than 30 years and four Tony Awards later, Gaines gives another noteworthy performance as Peter Stockmann, the protagonist in Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of The People.”

Although it written in 1892, the play resonates with modern audiences with its themes of political and environmental corruption. Stockmann is the doctor of a town dependent upon the salubrious waters of its spas. When he fears that the waters are unhealthy, he sends samples off to the university for testing. His concerns prove to be true; the waters are toxic and are poisoning people who come to the baths for cures.

Stockmann hastens to tell the authorities, namely the mayor who happens to be his brother Peter Stockman (Richard Thomas). He thinks the people will be grateful to learn the truth and, perhaps, even throw him a parade. The audience realizes what will happen and knows that public opinion will turn against him. We wonder at his naiveté.

At the town meeting, he realizes the people are concerned more with their pocketbooks than the truth and safety and he lashes out against the majority. When he is labeled an enemy of the people, he turns on them and suddenly the atmosphere becomes uncomfortable.

Much of the play is performed at the highest of decibels and can be deafening, especially for those of us who didn’t have hearing devices to lower. Quite frankly, the play is often too loud.

The best scene in the play is between Gaines and Thomas when the brothers argue. Money, power and control always win out over principles and the truth. Yet, even by the end, Gaines is like a veteran boxer, refusing to go down even as he’s being pummeled. He delivers Ibsen’s denunciation of the majority when he declares, "A minority may be right; a majority is always wrong."

Gaines does a fine job and so does Thomas. While Gaines is usually emotional, at first cavorting and then yelling, Thomas is usually more measured, albeit smiling and controlled. The smaller roles are not as well acted. Gerry Bamman as the union man, who is also president of the home-owners associations, is cartoonish. Michael Siberia as Stockmann’s father-in-law is almost a caricature.

In the new version of the play by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the characters seem modern. “An Enemy of the People” is particularly relevant during this campaign season with candidates flip-flopping and so easily changing their views. Perhaps the saddest realization is that 100 years later, little has changed.

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