How far would you go to do the right thing? What if everyone tried to convince you that it wasn't?
Those are the questions at the center of An Enemy of the People, an Ibsen play brought back to life on Broadway. When Dr. Thomas Stockmann discovers that the water from the town's new baths is contaminated, he comes forward with his findings in hopes of saving the town from disaster. But it's Stockmann's brother, Peter, who poses the most resistance to this news. Peter is the town's mayor and wishes to keep the revelations mostly under wraps -- or contained -- because backtracking at that point would result in devastating financial losses for the project's investors, and possibly even the townsmen.
With Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas at the helm starring as the squabbling siblings, the play features a phenomenal cast that carries both dramatic and comedic moments. As Gaines delivers some of Thomas's long-winded and emotional speeches during the play's second half, the characters around him look on with wonder, as if they're taking cues from their believable counterpart. Even as others look to restore order to the proceedings, Gaines maintains control over the rest of the group and makes sure to get his message across. Transforming the audience from passive onlookers to curious townspeople is effortless and effective.
It's nice to see a play built around conviction, moral certitude thriving ahead of conspiracy and coverups. Even a small town can have red tape and political disputes that may sour the environment in their own ways. It's hard to make sense of how quickly some of the characters go from believing in doing the right thing only to sort thereafter reveal that they have ulterior motives or other considerations that must come ahead of their consciences. It's remarkable, too, how easily the mayor can convince them to abide by his rules.
During a time when people are debating the role of government, this play resonates with an audience looking for leadership and also answers. It's frustrating to see someone with good ideas and interests be labeled as a mad man; seeing him overcome that adversity time and again is a testament to the depth of his morality. But it's also an indication that no matter how hard you try to better the world, there are bound to be opponents ready to pounce. That Dr. Thomas Stockmann doesn't become disillusioned while being disheartened by his adversaries is something absolutely wonderful to witness.