PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 22-28: An Enemy of the People, Sweet Bird of Youth, and a New Playwriting Prize

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28 Sep 2012

Boyd Gaines and Kathleen McNenny
Boyd Gaines and Kathleen McNenny

As the Presidential political season enters its final lap, Manhattan Theatre Club treated Broadway to a heavy dose of political drama with its production of Ibsen's fiery social tract An Enemy of the People, adapted by British dramatist Rebecca Lenkiewicz and directed by Doug Hughes. Boyd Gaines plays the righteous title character, Dr. Thomas Stockmann, who discovers that the spas that support his town's economy are fed by poisoned waters. Richard Thomas plays his expedience-minded mayor-brother. It opened Sept. 27.

Depending on their taste for the play's politics, and the unvarnished ferocity with which Ibsen presents them, some critics found much to admire in the production, while others found much that annoyed them. The criticisms had mainly to do with the hectoring, black-and-white tone that is part and parcel of the play's moralistic character. The Wall Street Journal, which never saw a leftist dramatic message it didn't want to broadside — those Newsies? a bunch of commies! — complained, "Ms. Lenkiewicz has made no attempt to paper over the play's contemptuous antipopulism." (Guess that population's willingness to risk poisoning people in the name of profit is less contemptuous.) "She has, however, cut the script ruthlessly, modernized Ibsen's language with four-letter words and ramped up the humor (such as it is) to the point of cartoonishness."

Even those who liked MTC's rendition said it got a little shouty. "Ibsen's potent play reaches a rapid boil in the seething confrontation between the brothers that concludes the first act," wrote the Times. "It rarely simmers down for the rest of the evening. The pedal-to-the-metal approach has its advantages. With voices clamoring from the stage at top volume for much of the evening, your attention is rarely likely to stray from the finely spun web of ideas animating Ibsen's play."

Entertainment Weekly called the play "crackling," while adding the "most serious flaw of this handsome, classical production is that it burns a bit too hot." Hollywood Reporter observed, "'Rollicking' is not a word that usually springs to mind in connection with Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, but it's the best way to describe the Manhattan Theatre Club's revival, [which] runs about an hour shorter than the original, features updated and colloquial language, and frequently accentuates the play's comic elements."

Of the lead actors, few found fault. Back Stage wrote, "The production succeeds on merit instead of flashiness or celebrity — with an outstanding cast of theatre veterans led by Richard Thomas and Boyd Gaines — and causes us to question just how far we are willing to go to stand up for our beliefs." 


Nikolai and the Others, a world-premiere play with a very Chekhovian title, written by the prolific Richard Nelson, will debut Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater in spring 2013.

David Cromer will helm the production. The story is set in 1948 during a spring weekend in Westport, CT, in which a close-knit group of Russian emigres, including choreographer George Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, painter/set designer Sergey Sudeikin and composer Nikolai Nabokov, gather to eat, drink and talk.

Did I say Chekhov? Scratch that. Sounds more like Stoppard.


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