A Town Without Pity

Ibsen incorporates contradictions into Dr. Stockmann's character in an effort to create a hero instead of a cardboard truth-teller. Such efforts don't pay off. Stockmann's mixture of arrogance and naivete in anticipating the town's worship of him makes him irritating from the start, making it difficult to relate to his noble efforts to stand up for the truth. Chris Clavelli's giddy, almost desperate performance as Stockmann, complete with mannerisms such as staggering and taking eyeglasses on and off in a stagy way, does little to evoke sympathy for the already annoying doctor. The character might be interesting if he were interpreted, with postmodern irony, as a comic megalomaniac who takes himself too seriously, rather than as a misunderstood victim. But that would have required Hall to reconceive his entire directorial slant, drawing out the absurdist flavor that peppers both the original and the adaption, instead of playing the drama straight.

John Gardiner has great fun with the anal Peter Stockmann, the play's indisputable villain, allowing us to hate the character with relish. And as Catherine, the doctor's wife, the versatile Pat Nesbit conveys both impatience with her husband's idealism, which threatens to pitch her and her children back into the poverty they once knew, and loyalty to his ideals -- she stands by him throughout his tribulations. Suzanne O'Donnell proves equally adept at portraying the couple's daughter Petra, an idealist-in-training. Max Gulack and John Felix inject humor into the otherwise self-conscious proceedings, with Gulack playing Catherine's doddering yet sly stepfather Morten Kiil, and Felix as the noncommittal bureaucrat publisher Aslaksen.

An enchanted set and subtle lighting design promise magic that the production never delivers. Scenic designer Tim Bennett graces the back half of the stage with moss-covered mounds dotted with birch trees, while the changing hues behind this forest, provided by lighting designer Thomas Salzman, reflect both the time of day and the emotional mood of each scene. Yet Hall almost never moves the players through the forest. And he allows the set to function as mere backdrop, pushing the drama's action forward so it takes place virtually in a straight line across the front of the stage, with the actors rarely even varying the side from which they enter and exit.

Hall's literal approach to the staging of An Enemy of the People hardly comes as a surprise considering Ibsen's reputation as the Big Daddy of realist theater. Given Hall's skill as a director, demonstrated through innumerable Caldwell productions over the years, such an approach would prove more than adequate with an Ibsen play in which the language, situations, and characters still have the power to move us. In a drama that hasn't aged well, however, an innovative spin might have made the work more palatable to contemporary theatergoers.

Stage Notes
South Florida's theater community honored its own on Monday, October 30, during the twentieth annual Carbonell Awards ceremonies. The smoothly produced event, at Jan McArt's Royal Palm Dinner Theatre in Boca Raton, booked right along, with dinner, live entertainment, acceptance speeches, and the requisite patter from presenters, all of which wrapped up at the civilized hour of 10:00 p.m. Winners and other guests who couldn't get enough of each other had plenty of schmooze time over drinks in the Royal Palm's garden afterward.

The show-business-spoof musical Ruthless ran away with four awards, including Best Production of a Musical, Best Director of a Musical (Joel Paley), Best Musical Direction (Nick Venden), and Best Actress in a Musical (Margot Moreland). Louis Tyrrell of the Pope Theatre Company, honored as Best Director of a Play for Dark Rapture, also received this year's George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts. The recently founded New World Rep Company, in its first season, garnered two awards: Best Production of a Play (Faith Healer) and Best Actress in a Play (Cynthia Caquelin, in the same production). Walter Zukovski snared the Best Actor in a Play award for Neil's Garden, which also won Best New Work.

Other winners included Peter Morgan Patrick for Best Supporting Actor in New Theatre's Sight Unseen; Pat Nesbit for Best Supporting Actress in the Caldwell Theatre Company's The Price; Tony Walton for Best Scenic Design (Men's Lives), and Suzanne M. Jones for Best Lighting Design (Dark Rapture), both at the Pope.

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