This review of Arthur Miller's An Enemy Of The People at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
An Enemy Of The People
Written by Arthur Miller
Book Adapted Based On A Play by Henrik Johan Ibsen
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
When Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Chief Medical Officer of the Municipal Baths (the town's main source of revenue and economic development), discovers serious bacterial contamination in the waters there caused by toxic waste coming from his father-in-law's tannery, he expects to be hailed as a hero having prevented people from getting sick and saving the town's reputation. However, when it is discovered that building a waste disposal plant and a new water filtration system to correct the problem will cost three hundred thousand dollars, the closure of the spa for two years, and the issuance of a new municipal bond that will raise taxes on the town's citizens, an array of powerful political forces conspire to silence him. Should Dr. Stockmann stand by his convictions and his knowledge of the truth whatever the consequences to himself and his family or should he listen to his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann (Chairman of the Board of the Municipal Baths Health Institute), who is encouraging him to retract his original alarmist statement in favor of a more modest one and a promise that the Board will address the contamination issue over time? Here seemingly upright citizens are prepared to compromise their morals and look the other way when their economic well-being, livelihood, and reputations are threatened (especially when business is booming and there is no unemployment in the town). They are prepared to attack the whistleblower and his family by all means necessary to hide, dilute and alter the truth for the sake of the community's perceived short-term, economic welfare.
This is the basic plot of Arthur Miller's play, modernized and adapted based on Henrik Johan Ibsen's 1882 drama about a man's lonely battle to defend the truth against a powerful, yet misguided, majority. Arthur Miller's An Enemy Of The People opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on December 28, 1950, closing on January 27, 1951 after 36 performances. In this production, the action takes place in 1925 in a town in Maine, as opposed to one in Norway. The audience had nothing but good things to say about this intriguing, timely, relevant play. The issues addressed here are universal and relevant. Especially given the recent revelation regarding the lead contaminated water that was being delivered to citizens in Flint, Michigan and the failure of municipal officials there to spend the money that would have been necessary to treat the pipes with an anti-corrosive agent. As David Dubin, the Director, said in his Program Note, "Whether it is water contamination or climate change or evolution or whether or not the earth revolves around the sun, science is often at the center of controversy, often vilified by those with their own agendas. The thing about science, though, is that it doesn't care if you believe in it or not." Scientific results cannot be denied by majority vote and are not invalid because you don't want them to be true. Emboldened by the knowledge he is preventing people from being poisoned, Dr. Thomas Stockmann refuses to be silenced despite losing his job, being physically attacked, and being threatened with jail on trumped up charges. He is committed to speaking truth to power!
Angelo DiBiase does a fine job as Dr. Thomas Stockmann, the idealistic, sometimes naive, medical doctor who believes in science. Dan Sheffield more than holds his own as Mayor Peter Stockmann. The two brothers engage in an epic battle in defense of what they think best. Dean Schildkraut is surprisingly effective as Aslaksen, the Chairman of the Property Owners Association, Publisher of The People's Daily Messenger (the local newspaper) and head of the local Temperance Society. Gail Merzer Behrens is quite believable as Mrs. Catherine Stockmann, the dutiful wife, and Ravi Tawney shines as Hovstad, an agitator who is Editor-in-Chief of the local newspaper and has an interest in seeing the current leaders of the town replaced with a more "liberal" administration. Unfortunately, I thought K.D. Guadagno engaged in a bit of theatrical overacting in her portrayal of Petra, Dr. Stockman's daughter, and Jules Jacobs, who played Morton Kiil (Dr. Stockman's father-in-law and owner of the tannery), forgot some of his lines causing long, awkward silences you could drive a truck through.
Some of my favorite quotations from this play include: "Every performer goes for the audience that applauds him most." (Mayor Peter Stockmann); "The original idea (for the spa) was his (Dr. Stockmann) but when it comes time to put things into action, it takes a different kind of man." (Mayor Peter Stockmann); "The Doctor is never happy unless he's challenging authority. Yet, in the guise of reform and justice, he leaves in his wake revolution and chaos. Without credible authority, you can't have government." (Mayor Peter Stockmann); "The world doesn't revolve around conviction. It revolves around money." (Mayor Peter Stockmann); "Without power, what good is truth." (Mrs. Catherine Stockmann); "There is so much injustice in the world, you just have to learn to live with it." (Mrs. Catherine Stockmann); "I'm against the age old lie that the majority is always right. Was the majority right when Jesus was chosen to be crucified?" (Dr. Thomas Stockmann); "Before many can know something, one must know it!" (Dr. Thomas Stockmann); and, on a more humorous note, "If a man goes out to fight for truth and freedom, he shouldn't wear his best clothes." (Dr. Thomas Stockmann).
On one level, the play is about how one man's bravery and self-respect can survive despite overwhelming odds. On another level, it is a criticism of the tyranny of the majority. Not only because the crowd can be riled up and manipulated but also because community leaders, who should be making wise decisions for the sake of the common good, make poor decisions because of self-interest. For example, the local newspaper doesn't publish the doctor's story about the contamination of the baths for fear it will lose subscribers when it becomes known they will need to pay a new tax in order to fix the problem, and the Mayor cannot propose any changes to the baths because he is afraid the public may find out he made a mistake when building them, and thus, oust him from office. Every imaginable threat is lodged against Dr. Thomas Stockmann by his brother, the newspaper, and his father-in-law to pressure him into moderating his position for the sake of the town and his family's future financial well-being. However, Dr. Stockmann not only continues to fight but also decides to stay in town. He and his daughter are fired from their respective jobs, no one from the town will use him as their doctor, the glazier will not visit his home to fix the glass windows that have been broken when rocks were thrown through them, his two sons have gotten into fights and must now be home schooled, he is being threatened with jail for conspiring with his father-in-law to buy up shares in the municipal baths (built by a corporation) at a reduced price, and he has no way to earn a living. When given the option of working within the corrupt system supported by the majority or defending the truth, he avows he would rather be "An Enemy of the People," the title assigned to him by a motion that passed at the Town Meeting held in his own home. I understand that Dr. Stockmann is incredibly angry and wants to keep fighting at all costs but at some point, I have to wonder whether he has abandoned all reason and is making decisions based on the irrationality of his own stubborn, naturally defiant personality.
An Enemy Of The People will leave you with a lot to think about. It is very entertaining and will keep you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what will happen next. It represents theater at its best! It plays through December 11, 2016 at Studio Theatre Long Island. For tickets ($25.00), call 631-226-8400 or visit www.studiotheatreli.com