EYE ON THEATRE: Glaring Contrast By JOHN SIMON

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SIMON-100412-Cast of An Enemy of the PeopleCast of “An
Enemy of The People”.
 

Any
revival of an Ibsen play is welcome, even such a flawed one as, currently, “An
Enemy of the People
” by the generally more discerning Manhattan Theatre Club.
This is an ill advised, indeed contraindicated, “new version” by Rebecca
Lenkiewicz
, whom the publicity material describes as a leading British
playwright.

SIMON-100412-Richard ThomasRichard Thomas.

Whatever
she may be as a playwright—though her lead has not yet reached me—she is an
objectionable adapter, whose presumptively modern, very British, language
merely trivializes the play. But worse yet are her rewrites and omissions,
which do further damage.

In
case you need telling or reminding, the drama concerns what happens to Dr.
Thomas Stockman and family when he reveals the truth about the new public baths
that are to enrich the town. Scientific testing, arranged by the doctor, prove
dangerous bacterial contamination, caused largely by a proximous tannery owned
by Mrs. Stockman’s father, Morton Kiil.

While
they think him their ally, the townsfolk, led by the doctor’s very different
brother, Mayor Peter Stockman, and the liberal newspaper, are all praise for
Thomas. But when he reveals the contamination, and rectification would prove
expensive, everyone turns violently against him, pronouncing him enemy of the
people. This despite the baths having already caused serious infection.

Bacteriology
not having at the time been universally accepted, Dr. Stockman is not only an
honest scientist, but also, like Ibsen, an advanced thinker. The unthinking, smug,
so-called liberal majority is, for the playwright, the real enemy of the people.

Trouble
here, is compounded by the staging. Doug Hughes, a usually good director,
starts with a speeded-up, noisily hysterical tempo, and concludes with a slow,
almost draggily, pause-riddled ending, the exact reverse of what the play calls
for. And then there is the casting.

SIMON-100412-James Waterson, John Procaccino and Boyd GainesJames Waterson, John Procaccino, and Boyd Gaines.

Boyd
Gaines is a charming, lovable actor, but he is not Dr. Stockman. Too young, too
boyish-looking, he is directed right off into a voluble hothead, which is all
wrong. As his arrogantly antithetical brother, Mayor Peter Stockman, Richard
Thomas comes off better, but he resorts to some stock melodramatic villain
mannerisms, all but twirling an invisible mustache. Garry Bamann, as the
foolish, self-important printer Aslaksen, steals most of the thunder.

Randall
Newsome is solid as the worthy Captain Horster, and John Procaccino is fine as
the hypocritical newspaper publisher Hovstad. So too are James Waterston as the
equally phony journalist Billing and Michael Siberry as the rascally tycoon
Morton Kiil. Kathleen McNenny is effective as the gradually awakening Mrs.
Stockman, and only Maite Alina, as the valiant daughter Petra, is much too
nondescript

John
Lee Beatty
’s sets and Catherine Zuber’s costumes couldn’t be more authentic;
too bad that the Lenkiewicz adaptation isn’t anything like that. But Ibsen’s
play, even manhandled, remains acutely timely and superior to most of what is
around.

Production photos of “An
Enemy of The People” by and courtesy of Joan Marcus.

The
Manhattan Theatre Club performance of “An Enemy of the People” is
seen at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 West 47th Street, New
York, NY
10036. Ticket purchases are accomplished by telephone: (212) 239-6200
or (800) 432-7250, or by way of the Internet: Telecharge.com.  


SIMON-100412-Mary BroomeCast of
“Mary Broome”.

The
best of what is around is “Mary Broome,” a 1911 play by Manchester’s Allan
Monkhouse
, which the highly deserving Mint Theater Company of Jonathan Bank has
blessedly mounted. As timeless as possible, it is downright astounding coming
from an Edwardian writer, the now barely remembered but gifted Monkhouse.

We
have here the story of a 1911 British bourgeois family, the Timbrells, who have
an attractive, feisty housemaid, Mary Broome. The scapegrace younger son,
Leonard, a witty and seductive but amoral scrounger, vaguely literary, lives
exclusively from handouts, chiefly from his family. There is Edward, the
pompous, grandiosely domineering patriarch, and his much more liberal and
somewhat mysterious wife, Mrs. Timbrell, whom the author makes more universal
by withholding her first name.  

Leonard has impregnated Mary, and the rest of the play follows the
resulting consequences and tribulations over a couple of years. They include
the forced marriage of Leonard and Mary, and much, much more. Involved also are
Leonard’s conventional older brother, Edgar, and his wife, Sheila, decent but
equally conventional, as are also sister Ada Timbrell, and Mary’s amusingly
lower-class parents, as well as some others, seen or merely heard about. 

What
emerges is an absorbing comedy of manners, with the comedy serious as well as
comical, and the manners mostly less than good. The admirably clear-eyed course
judiciously eschews both temptations, toward obvious satire or facile
melodrama.

Cogently
characterized are Leonard, a charming rotter not without a spark of perspicacity,
and Mary, who after one misstep behaves with decency and sensibleness that do
not get either idealized or sentimentalized.

Especially
interesting is Mrs. Timbrell (splendidly enacted by Kristin Griffith), whose
past and present are bathed in fascinatingly enriching ambiguity. Graeme
Malcolm endows the blustering paterfamilias Edward with just the right shred of
ineffectual humanity, and Mary’s homely virtues and passing frailty are
embodied with staunch simplicity by Janie Brookshire.

Lesser
roles, under Jonathan Bank’s unfussy direction, are neatly handled, and Martha
Hally’s costumes, like Amy Stoller’s dialect coaching, contribute laudably.
Only Roger Hanna’s cartoonish sets are out of period and character, but happily
overlookable. In the difficult role of Leonard, Roderick Hill does a creditable
job, where greater charm would have been helpful. All in all, though, “Mary
Broome” sweeps away most of the current competition.       

Production photos of “Mary
Broome” by and courtesy of Carol Rosegg Photography.

The
1911 play by Manchester’s Allan Monkhouse, “Mary Broome”, is being performed at
the Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd
Street, New York, NY 10036. Ticket purchase is accomplished by calling the Box
Office: (866) 811-4111, or by way of the Internet:  www.MintTheater.org

John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film,
literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New
Criterion, National Review, New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard,
Broadway.com and Bloomberg News. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has
taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College.

To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.com website.

eHeziEYE ON THEATRE: Glaring Contrast By JOHN SIMON

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