PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Kathleen McNenny, the Good Wife of An Enemy of the People

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01 Oct 2012

Boyd Gaines and Kathleen McNenny in <i>An Enemy of the People</i>.
Boyd Gaines and Kathleen McNenny in An Enemy of the People.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Meet Kathleen McNenny, the wife — on stage and off — of An Enemy of the People's Boyd Gaines.


There a small, lovely, marital moment in Act Two of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, that can fly by you it's so effortless.

Boyd Gaines, as an idealistic doctor trying to close the local and quite literal tourist trap — healing baths that are actually quite toxic — is ridiculed at a town-hall meeting by a hostile crowd because his inflexible medical stance could mean the financial ruination of the whole village. All is lost for him in this moment, and then, after a he crosses right to face the mob, a hand reaches out of nowhere to support him. Catherine, Dr. Stockmann's wife (played by Kathleen McNenny), has told him privately that his unyielding crusade jeopardizes their home and hearth, yet she publicly steps up to stand by her man while everyone else moves away. She is literally the woman behind the man.

So, one wonders — since both actors are married to each other in real life — if that tiny, but telling, gesture came easily because of decades of over-rehearsal. We grabbed a few minutes with the veteran Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional actress on opening night of the new Manhattan Theatre Club revival.

Was that little hand-grasping moment written, directed or just natural?
Kathleen McNenny: It actually just came out of a moment where he happened to be standing next to me one day when we were working on the blocking. I could see he was getting upset, so I grabbed his hand. We had talked about 'Don't let them get you upset. Stay calm. Speak your piece.' And then you can see he's starting to get kinda crazy, so it's an attempt by the wife to comfort the husband. It just felt natural to say, 'Take a breath, and start slow, and you'll be okay' — kinda how spouses do with each other, sometimes.

You've acted with your husband before, right?
KM: Yeah, but in New York City it's been 20 years. We did Comedy of Errors in the Park. He was Antipholus of Syracuse, and I was Luciana. That's how we met. Then, fortunately, about two years ago, we did a production of Sylvia by Pete Gurney at George Street Playhouse, playing husband and wife. That was the first time we'd actually done something together in years and years.

So you don't actively seek this, right? How did it happen?
KM: I don't know if we don't actively seek it. It's that it doesn't naturally occur. This play lends itself to a real couple. I think it's natural for a husband and wife to be cast in these parts — especially a couple who has the same kind of history. Y'know: it's a long marriage and had lots of ups and downs, there are children — similarities, and it felt this would be right, and [director] Doug Hughes agreed.

Who pointed that out?
KM: Boyd suggested it, and Doug said, "I think it's a great idea."


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