In an age of rampant corporate chicanery and political scandal, Americans are ripe for a good Ibsen-style moral scolding. And so Manhattan Theatre Club has lined up a new staging of one of the Norwegian dramatist's most stinging dramatic rebukes, An Enemy of the People. In the 1882 work, the once respected Doctor Thomas Stockmann becomes a public pariah when he points out that the local water that will feed the town's projected tourism cash-cow — public baths on which a ton of public and private money has been spent — is, in fact, contaminated. No one wants to hear this news, least of all Thomas' mayor brother, Peter. British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz penned the new adaptation, which gets its American premiere in a production directed by Doug Hughes and starring Boyd Gaines as the good doctor and Richard Thomas as the mayor. Lenkiewicz, who is juggling commissions from MTC and the National Theatre, talked to Playbill.com about how little has changed in 130 years.
When did you write this particular adaptation?
Rebecca Lenkiewicz: A few years back for the Arcola Theatre. They asked me to do it.
Was Ibsen a particular favorite of yours?
RL: Yes. I like him a lot. I'd written original plays for the Arcola before and we wanted to do an adaptation together, so we decided to do an Ibsen.
Do you know Norwegian or did you get someone to do a literal translation of the play first?
RL: I only know one word of Norwegian. The word for "ghost." That's it.
How did you approach the job? How did you make the story palatable for audiences of today?
RL: I'd seen the play before. I read it and reread it. I just did it line by line, really. It grows much like one's own play. You get into the psychology of the characters and get under their skin. It takes a while to be in it. It's a few scenes before you're in it truly. You have to try to make it your own in a way, without distorting the original. It's about rhythm, really, the rhythm of the characters speaking to each other. I wanted it to feel very present and modern and not at all antiquated.
RL: This is the second.
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