Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the September 27, 2000
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `An Enemy of the People’
It is an enduring bit of theater history that Ibsen
wrote "An Enemy of the People" in retaliation to the negative
reception his previous play "Ghosts" received from the
press. With phrases like "the minority is always right," and
"the strongest man in the world is the one who stands most
it’s easy to imagine the play as one long flipping-of-the-bird to
the 1882 equivalent of John Simon, New York’s notoriously savage
In fact, Ibsen is too fine a dramatist to settle into such pettiness,
and his characters are never quite so one dimensional.
In the early 1950s, Arthur Miller adapted the play just prior to
"The Crucible," his own lightly veiled attack on McCarthy
era red-baiting. It is possible to see his adaptation of Ibsen’s play
as sort of a practice run. Although he claimed otherwise, Arthur
hands can be seen all over "An Enemy of the People," cutting
scenes and eliminating speeches, and generally simplifying Ibsen’s
complex cocktail of human motivations into a moralizing sermon against
the political nincompoops of the day. (This is not to say that
nincompoops don’t deserve a good moralizing sermon from time to time.
One just wishes it were more artfully accomplished.)
There are more faithful translations available, by James McFarlane,
Christopher Hampton, R. Farquharson Sharp, and others. But in America,
it is Miller’s streamlined version that is considered most
and is therefore most often staged. This is the version that the
NET of Bucks County have chosen to stage at the Heritage Center in
Morrisville. The production concludes this Friday, Saturday, and
"An Enemy of the People" is the story of Doctor Stockmann,
a naive do-gooder and scientist who detects dangerous poisons in the
nearby springs. These springs represent an enormous financial
for the wealthiest members of the community, who expect to become
wealthier if the springs attract the expected throngs of visitors
from far and wide wishing to bask in these supposed health-giving
waters. Stockmann expects to be heralded as a hero, but is sadly
when the town, led by his pompous mayor brother, turns against him
after learning that any improvements to the springs will come out
of their own pockets in the form of a tax. Despite being terrorized
by the townsfolk and vilified in the newspapers, Stockmann sticks
to his guns, believing in the holiness of his position. Truth is on
The cast is large, featuring 10 key roles along with
a rag-tag conglomeration of yelping townspeople. For the most part,
the actors do a credible job. Most everyone on stage seems to know
where to stand, what lines to say when, and is able to offer up a
reasonable approximation of heartfelt emotion. Yet the acting as a
whole seems oddly mechanical.
For example, David Anthony plays Doctor Stockmann like a blind man
driving a steamroller. His Doctor Stockmann is a self-involved fool,
too stubborn for his own or his family’s good, who keeps his eyes
focused on the so-called rightness of his own opinion, completely
blinded to his own inevitable fall. Unfortunately for the production,
the audience sees his fate long before he does. Thus his fall is not
tragic, or noble, or admirable, but only annoying.
Although much of the problem here can be attributed to Miller’s
a good chunk of it belongs to the direction. Good directors can add
life to a production despite a rickety script, and this is something
that Cheryl Doyle does not do. She keeps things moving along at a
brisk pace, and is careful that the words are said in a manner
to the audience, but her directing is flat. None of the actors look
comfortable on stage. No one looks alive. Everyone moves stiffly,
like automatons, splurting out words between pauses, and never really
listening to anything anyone else says.
Likewise, K.T. Tomlinson as Stockmann’s hardluck wife Catherine,
Kronnagel as Petra, Hugh Barton as Stockmann’s backstabbing friend
Hovstad, and Dale Simon as brother and mayor Peter Stockmann, all
give indications that they may be fine actors, except in this
they are rarely allowed that opportunity.
The set design (dullish browns) and lighting design (lights up, lights
down), both also by Cheryl Doyle, do little to enliven the staging;
they seem like an afterthought.
Making a play, any play, live and breathe on a stage can be a
process, the product of after days and weeks of almost mind-numbing
repetition. It is good for a director not to be too goal-oriented,
and I suspect that Cheryl Doyle, as a director, went into rehearsals
with her mind already made up.
But Doyle is a director of talent and some nice things do happen.
I think if one were to merely listen to the production as if it were
an audio recording, and not watch it, it would be easier to enjoy
the show. The play "sounds" nice, like a piece of music; it’s
mostly when the visual aspects come into play that things get
The Actors’ NET production of "An Enemy of the People" is
not a lost cause.
Looking past such production flaws, and Miller’s pastry-thin
there is an interesting story going on. Maybe all that is needed is
a more faithful translation, an extra week or two of rehearsal, a
good book on blocking, and another discussion on characters’
— Jack Florek
Avenue, Morrisville, 215-295-3694. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,
29, September 30, and October 1. $10.
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