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Theater Review: 'An Enemy of the People' -- 3 stars

James Waterson , John Procaccino and Boyd Gaines

James Waterson , John Procaccino and Boyd Gaines as in " An Enemy of the People." Credit: James Waterson , John Procaccino and Boyd Gaines as in " An Enemy of the People." (Joan Marcus)

An Enemy of the People
3 stars

Henrik Ibsen's vigorous 1882 drama "An Enemy of the People," in which a small Norwegian community is manipulated into leashing out against a lone critical voice like a rampaging mob, has been long overdue for a major revival. And it is especially relevant in an election season marked by extreme views across the political spectrum.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Boyd Gaines), an admired physician, learns that the town's newly built baths, which were expected to attract tourists and outside money, have been polluted by nearby toxins and are causing illness. His brother Peter (Richard Thomas), the town's mayor, bluntly tells the doctor that shutting down the baths would bankrupt the town.

Unable to stop Thomas from spilling the beans, Peter goes around town bad mouthing his brother. Thomas, who originally thought he'd be hailed as a hero for making the discovery, is instead harassed and fired from his job.

While Doug Hughes' production preserves the play's qualities as a sharp thriller, the text has been severely trimmed to a lean two-hour length at the expense of character development. The set design, which exposes the wooden interiors of each building, is odd and distracting.

Many cast members, including Gaines and Thomas, have a tendency to scream their lines at maximum intensity. A scene before the Act One curtain between the two actors resembles a shouting match.

But these issues aside, "An Enemy of the People" makes for exciting, politically-charged theater. Gaines, one of our best stage actors, makes a credible transition into a determined dissident, while Thomas is a perfectly smug and dapper villain.

If you go: "An Enemy of the People" plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through Nov. 11. 261 W. 47th St.,, 212-239-6200.

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