Monday, February 22, 2010
I'm always griping that the only Ibsen play revived in New York with any constancy is Hedda Gabler, with an occasional visit to A Doll's House. So I was happy to trek over to the West 30's to attend a Barrow Group Theatre Company production of Enemy of the People, which I only know from reading (I wrote a well-received paper about the playwright in high school) and an out-of-it Steve McQueen's curious 1978 film version, which I saw on cable and has resurfaced on DVD-R in the Warner Archive.
Very superficially, the play anticipates, of all things, Jaws. Except that here the menace isn't an outsized shark but the potential of slow death from chromium poisoning, which has been found in the hot baths that are a tourism moneymaker in the town where the production is set. Leading the crusade to shut down the baths for an overhaul is the town's physician--but the support he receives from his family and a socialist newspaper and other individuals erodes in the face of reasoned opposition from local business interests, not least his cagey father-in-law. Dr. Stockmann (Larry Mitchell) is shunned, and faces the scandal of being branded "an enemy of the people" as his damaging report is swept under the rug.
Seth Barrish and K. Lorrell Manning have freely adapted the play, beefing up the female roles and adding some sore-thumb colloquialisms ("ballistic!") to Ibsen's original. To a degree the overhauling, making the piece "meaningful" for our craven-to-business times, works, not that that aspect of it needed a push. The modest staging is however somewhat logy, and the acting uneven. (The "bad guys" have the edge, performance-wise, over the good.) But my desire to see this play staged has been satisfied, and anyone needing an Ibsen fix is encouraged to seek it out, through March 8.