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Theater Review : Miller's 'Enemy' Still Delivers Punch


CULVER CITY — Arthur Miller's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's 1882 drama "An Enemy of the People," at the Ivy Substation, isn't so much an adaptation as it is a collaboration between two of the greatest playwrights of all time. Miller may have adapted the play in the 1950s, but the result remains so thoroughly contemporary, it's spooky. Without drawing any parallels to the McCarthy era, one could easily believe Miller finished the piece only last night, writing in white-hot indignation over this country's atmosphere of increasing political intolerance.

The action, set in a small Norwegian town in 1895, starts off somewhat haltingly but under Jodi Binstock's capable direction builds to a thundering climax. As is usual with singular productions, the resident company at the Substation, the technical elements are handsome, the cast uniformly professional.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Bryan Rasmussen) and his wife, Catherine (Gail Godown), are happy to be back in their provincial Norwegian birthplace after some lean years in the frozen north. As impecunious as he is idealistic, Tom holds a well-paid position as the medical officer at the town's recently constructed springs, which the city elders are hoping will transform their financially strapped community into a vacation mecca. Chief mover and shaker in the new development is Tom's brother Peter (William Dennis Hunt), the town's fiercely plutocratic mayor.


When Tom receives scientific confirmation that the springs are polluted with deadly bacteria from an upstream tannery, he tries to make his findings public, but finds every forum, from the press to the public meeting hall, closed to him. Peter, appalled by the exorbitant costs of overhauling the site, would rather cover up than clean up. But first, he has to muzzle his meddlesome brother. As Peter whips the townspeople into a jingoistic frenzy, with his brother as the cynosure of their outrage, Tom progresses from idealism to disillusionment to radicalism.

Towering and dour, Hunt gives a gripping portrayal of a venal man who is perfectly willing to burn his own brother on the altar of a corrupt status quo. The age difference between Hunt and the much younger Rasmussen is jarring. So, at first, is the difference in their acting techniques.

In contrast to Hunt's seasoned assurance, Rasmussen seems initially uncomfortable. However, as the plot's momentum builds, so does Rasmussen's intensity. From shaky origins, Rasmussen eventually delivers a no-holds-barred performance, full of fire and passion, that leaves the actor hoarse and the audience spent.

Miller and Ibsen's drama brilliantly highlights the abuses against the individual that are committed in the name of patriotism, a particularly apt message for frightening times. However, in one respect, the play is not successfully contemporary. Those rocks flying through the windows? Today, they would be bullets, even bombs. The social ills may remain the same, but the stakes grow ever higher.

* "An Enemy of the People," Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 26. $17. (310) 558-1555. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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