The Goodman’s production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People wasn’t the “timely classic” the ads promise. While the cast was good, except for one who stumbled on his lines a couple times, and the sets and costumes were creative and fitting, the play was dated and the hero was egotistical and clueless.
They say group therapy works because while you can brush aside one person’s opinion or insight, when a bunch tell you you’re wrong, you realize you must confront your short comings. Too bad the hero of An Enemy of the People, never considered that. Factually, he was right, but otherwise he was so wrong in how he treated and disrespected his community.
The play opens at a doctor’s house as he and his wife are entertaining two young revolutionary journalists. In the middle of the party, the doctor receives and important report on the toxicity of the spa water for which the town is known. The doctor’s thrilled that his hypothesis is true. It was odd how happy he was because he was right. He had no ability to sympathize with people who would be hurt by the news. Throughout the play the doctor fights to get the bad news out. He never grows or cooperates with his brother the mayor, the printer who’s afraid of losing his livelihood, the journalists who get corrupted and side with the mayor. The hero never become a leader and never shows wisdom. He’s vain and right and will be damned if he has to take another approach.
The culminating scene is when the doctor calls a town meeting to reveal the toxicity. However, he changes his mind and instead gives a tirade about how stupid everyone else in society is. He’s the only one with any brains, which of course, the scene calls into question. His wife and daughter look on passively as their breadwinner and head of the family destroy their prospects. He goes on and on haranguing about how everyone else is brainwashed because of their bad schooling, never mind that he’s a product of the same school system, never mind that the rich probably were tutored, never mind that there are always some who’re born with a healthy skepticism and they have always questioned their teachers.
The play added a lot of needless swearing to make the production “modern.” That doesn’t say much for our times, does it?
The second act dragged on with more haranguing and no important new events or revelations. There is something about how the doctor’s father-in-law bough a lot of cheap shares in the springs and offers them to the doctor to buy him off and get him to retract. There’s some domestic squabbling about whether the family should move now that the enraged neighbors have thrown rocks through their windows and their furniture’s been destroyed. None of this was of much interest because by the intermission I’d been fatigued by all the ranting.
The play’s dated because even in the age of Trump and Hillary, the average person is more literate and quite questioning and able to be informed. I think we’ve learned that calling people stupid or deplorable is vain and isn’t going to work out.We’ve learned that environmental problems aren’t simple to fix and that a blame game won’t result in progress.
I actually pity the cast and crew who have to endure this story night after night.