I recall with reverence the last time I saw this wonderful play at Baltimore's Center Stage. It was the spring of 1990, over twenty-two years ago, and then Artistic Director Stan Wojewodski directed a splendid production. It was clear what century it took place. It was clear where it took place (Norway). Everything about it was clear.
Center Stage is celebrating it's 50th season by presenting a different take on this classic and new Artistitic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah has gone way out on a limb in leading this cast in a very different way.
I recently attended a week-day matinee with a group of theater-goers who I believe were perplexed about where the action of the play actually occurred.
As one enters the theater, the inner-lobby is packed with paraphernalia from the 1960's. There are photos of Walt Disney on a tea cup, Joe McCarthy, and Walter Cronkite. There are parlor games like Charles Gorin's "Bridge for One". There's a magazine rack with the March 1957 "Seventeen" magazine. Another mural has photos of James Dean, Willie Mays, Dick Clark, and Chubby Checker. And finally there's a 15" RCA deluxe portable black and white television.
There is also a quote from Philospher Jean Baudrillard that says, "Television knows no night. It is perpetual day. TV embodies our fear of the dark, of night, of the other side of things."
One then enters the Pearlstone Theater and sees five large television monitors and a huge circular back wall that is used for photos and videos (reminded me of the old Cinerama screens). On the video screens is the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960. THE BEST MAN recently on Broadway used the same technology successfully since the play concerned the race for President. However, this play takes place in Norway and does not deal with an election!!
When the play begins the actors are in modern dress with no accents. The Mayor talks of the fine new carriages coming to town. Money is mentioned but they are not dollars but "crowns". The first time I heard "crowns" I noticed many in the audience wondering "Where is this taking place?" Many in the audience were confused about when the play took place and where it took place. That is a serious hindrance.
The play concerns a town that relies on his water supply that has been known as healing the sick and is faced with the prospect that the water supply is in reaility going to get people sick and possibly cause death. This is the conundrum facing scientist Dr. Stockmann (played by Dion Graham) and his brother, the mayor of the town, Peter Stockmann (Kevin Kilner).
Kilner's portrayal is one of an egotist. He doesn't consider the ramifications of his findings to the town or his wife and two three children. His characterization just doesn't work.
Kilner as Mayor is played like a Donald Trump. He knows how politics works and how to handle his brother to make sure his accusations look unfounded to his constituents.
It's a wonderful play that just has too many gimmicks which detract from the story. In many instances, I found it boring.
The audience in fact gave what I considered a tepid response.
I was impressed with the technology utitilzed by Alex Koch. Maybe he could have used the back wall as a canvas for the small town in Norway. Tara Rubin, the famous casting office so successful on Broadway, is the casting director and I found some of her choices troubling.
The costumes where all in gray by David Burdick and could be used on the set of "Mad Men". The lighting by Michelle Habeck worked well.
All in all, it was not an impressive debut for Kwei-Armah.
ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE runs until Sunday, October 21.
For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.
ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE is also being done on Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club starring Tony winner Boyd Gaines (so often on the boards at Center Stage) and Sam Waterston ("Law and Order"). It runs until November 11 at the Samuel Friedman Theatre. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.manhattantheatreclub.com.