Saturday, October 6, 2012

Theater Review: An Enemy of the People

An Amazingly Contemporary Ibsen Play on Age-Old Politics and Human Nature
By Lauren Yarger
What's more important, the public's right to know or the need to stimulate the economy? Don't like the facts? Change 'em. Want to keep religion out of the schools? Curb free speech. Don't want the public to hear what your opponent has to say? Smear him, charge "class warfare" and make sure the press is on your side.

If this all sounds like today's political headlines, think again. It is the makeup of Henrik Ibsen's 1882 play An Enemy of the People in a sharply updated Broadway version (by Rebecca Lenkiewicz) produced by Manhattan Theatre Club. Doug Hughes directs Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas in a fast-paced psychological thriller.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Gaines) has made an astonishing discovery. The baths, from which his coastal town in Norway derives economic prosperity as tourists come seeking a healthy spa experience, actually are toxic. It seems that the pipes carrying the water to the baths were not buried deeply enough -- despite Thomas' warnings in the first place -- and now pollution from the tannery owned by his testy father-in-law, Morten Kiil (Michael Sieberry), is making the waters a death trap.

Thomas is championed as a hero for making the discovery by his wife, Catherine (Kathleen McNenny), free-thinking daughter, Petra (Maite Alina), and a few others who know about his work. Hovstad (John Procaccino), publisher of the town's paper, immediately sets printer Aslaksen (a drole Gerry Bamman) into action to put Thomas' report into print so everyone can be warned.

"To have the respect of one's fellow man -- it's beautiful," Thomas says as he ponders what kind of parade the town might choose to honor him.

Thomas' brother, Peter (Richard Thomas), however, has a different idea: bury the report. As the mayor -- he wears that hat proudly and literally -- he is more concerned with the economic impact a health scare will have on the tourists coming to use the baths and spend money in the town. His concerns start to win over supporters among the townspeople, especially when the staggering cost -- and the necessary tax hike to fund it -- to relay the pipes becomes apparent. Peter questions the findings in Thomas' report and successfully creates diversions to keep anyone from remembering that it was Peter  who advocated for the design shortcut over Thomas' objections in the first place.

In a flood of self preservation, the townspeople swiftly turn on Thomas. A river of hate washes away any the public hero and he is labeled, instead, an enemy of the people. Beyond the genuinely interesting plot and obvious similarities to current political techniques to boost approval ratings and polls, there's a deeper psychological study taking place that keeps us guessing about who the heroes and enemies really are and what motivates their actions until the very end.

Gaines gives a layered performance as the man who goes from trying to be humble at the thought of friends honoring him at the head of a parade to fearing that he'll be run out out of town by a bloodthirsty mob. His boisterous turn is nicely balanced by Richard Thomas as this priggish, power hungry, uncaring brother who sees himself as the "moral guardian" of everyone but himself.

Standing out from the ensemble is James Waterston as Billing, a reporter at the paper who amuses as he offers screaming support and enthusiasm  (think that Jingos!™ cracker commercial) then switches to venomous opponent.

Hughes successfully breaks down the fourth wall to create a feeling that the audience is part of the "liberal majority." Actors leave John Lee Beatty's set to stroll through the house at times with transitions aided by and lighting (Ben Stanton, design) and music (original music and sound design by David Van Tieghem). In fact, when one audience member sneezed, Gaines said "bless you" in a way that seemed a natural part of the script.

An Enemy of the People plays a limited run at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC through Nov. 11  Tickets/info: 

Christians might also like to know:
-- Lord’s name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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