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

Scandinavian

press. With phrases like "the minority is always right," and

"the strongest man in the world is the one who stands most

alone,"

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

critic.

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

writing

"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

Miller’s

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

political

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

audience-friendly

and is therefore most often staged. This is the version that the

Actors’

NET of Bucks County have chosen to stage at the Heritage Center in

Morrisville. The production concludes this Friday, Saturday, and

Sunday,

October 1.

"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

investment

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

disappointed

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

his side.

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

translation,

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

discernible

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,

Corryn

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

production

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

painstaking

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

difficult.

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

propaganda,

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’

motivation.

— Jack Florek

An Enemy of the People, Actors’ NET, 635 North

Delmorr

Avenue, Morrisville, 215-295-3694. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,

September

29, September 30, and October 1. $10.


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