Thursday, October 25, 2012

I've lined up the safest company I could think of for Election Night: Henrik Ibsen


Ibsen's battling Stockmann brothers: It's entirely possible that Richard Thomas (right) as Mayor Peter S -- seen here with Boyd Gaines as Dr. Thomas S -- indeed "does everything but twirl his mustache as the bogeyman" in what Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard describes as "Doug Hughes’s clipped vaudeville of a production" of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People now on Broadway. But I'd still rather be there on Election Night than chained to the TV and the computer.

by Ken

So the ticket is bought, and can't be exchanged or refunded. But I think I got this one right.

For some time now the very useful online discount service Goldstar has been offering less-than-half-price (before you add in their fee, that is) tickets for the production, and for a larger and larger assortment of future performances, which tells you that their tickets aren't selling like hot cakes. And every time I've seen an announcement I've paused.

It's a funny play, Enemy of the People, and I don't mean funny in the ha-ha sense, though I note that the Goldstar blurb describes the adaptation used here, by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, as "scintillating and surprisingly humorous." It's a play that hardly ever seems to come to us except in "adaptation," and the adapters always seem to reduce what I recall in the original as an exceedingly complex situation to cartoonlike dimension. (As august a personage as Arthur Miller certainly managed it in his version, which used to get a lot of play but mercifully seems to have slunk into the shadows.)

This by itself isn't that remarkable. Lots of plays can be stripped of their complexity this way. One often thinks it's the mission of our commercial (and, alas, noncommercial) theater to strip plays of their complexity. What's fascinating about Enemy of the People is that the cartoonification can be performed in either direction, making either the gung-ho pro-development mayor or the self-righteously inflexible whstle-blowing doctor the object of scorn.

(You'll recall that Mayor Peter was the driving force behind the health spa built around the economically battered town's spring which looks to be its salvation, while Dr. Thomas is the incorruptible man of science who discovers that the water is contaminated and the spa has to be shut down.)

It's ages since I read an unadapted version of the play (or at least as close as I can get to one, since I don't know any Norwegian and so can only access it in translation), and that will be a good project for these next couple of weeks. Still, it's certainly my recollection that it is in fact the complexity rather than any cartoonish two-dimensional reduction thereof that fascinated Ibsen. The mayor is fighting for the survival of the community, after all, while the doctor seems so lost in his self-righteousness that he doesn't seem to see much beyond his moral purity, and in fact treats his family rather appallingly.

My natural impulse, then, is to approach any new production of the play with deep skepticism, and the ballyhoooing of some revelatory new adaptation tends to amp it up. And yet, that's a pretty good pair of actors cast in the lead roles, and you'd think that the production could hardly fail to engage some of the social and human issues that crackle in the play, which you'll note has an awful lot of topicality these 130 years later.

So I kept tabling those offer announcements. Even the "bargain" price of $63 (including the $8 fee) wasn't that persuasive a sweetener, since the announced "full price" of $120 just makes me giggle.

And then this morning I was looking at the latest set of dates made available at the discount price, running well into November, and a dim light lit in some dark recess of my brain. Might there be an early-November Tuesday performance on offer? Like, say, the first Tuesday of the month? Sure enough, there was. To find out whether there were tickets still available for that evening I had to log in (site registration is free; you only pay when you actually buy something), so I did, and there were. I thought about it a little, and pulled the trigger.

It's one of those modern-day early weeknight curtains, at 7pm, which isn't ideal. According to Jeremy Gerard's Bloomberg review the show has been hacked down to two hours (is that with intermission(s)?), so I could be back out on 47th Street not much after 9pm, which is too early, even adding in the 45 minutes or so it'll take me to get home. I may be forced to shell out more bucks to get something to eat, as a delaying tactic. But by that hour the streets of New York will be filled with people who know more than I want to know about the day's outcomes, meaning I may have to fight like the dickens to avoid being informed before I'm ready.

I understand that by that hour all sorts of contests in the East of interest to me will have been decided. And that even after whatever arbitrary "late enough" time I pick -- I'm kind of gravitating to 11pm ET, when the polls in California will have closed -- there are bound to be at least some and possibly many races still undecided. But the one thing my nervous system isn't up to this year is that hours-long drip-drip-drip of information intermingled with speculation. (By the way, if you need information about poll opening or closing times, Ballotpedia has a state-by-state list.)

Obviously I've got a bad feeling about this election. Of course I don't recall an election when I didn't have a bad feeling. The thing is, in nearly all those cases the bad feeling proved well-founded. I'm not even pretending that my strategy will make bad news easier to swallow. The news will be what the news will be.

I remember there was one Election Night when I employed this very strategy -- successfully cordoned myself off from all news till it could be delivered in a single blow. And I remember that it was quite horrible. On the other hand, I don't recall which election this was -- and that small measure of obliviousness seems to me worth targeting. Not to mention being spared that infernal evening-long drip-drip-drip. Sure, even in the worst-case scenario there all but certain to be bits of good news, and those I'll be pleased to accept as happy surprises.

I'm certainly not endorsing my Enemy of the People stratagem. It's entirely possible that I'll leave the theater in a rage. But even that could be a good thing, insofar as it takes my mind off . . . you know, the other thing. (On the other hand, maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised! Strange things do happen.) If you want to check around and see what else might be happening in your bailiwick which might keep you out of the line of media fire during those agonizing evening hours, believe me, I'll understand.

Failing all else, you could read Enemy of the People. Now all I have to do is find a readable English rendering of what Ibsen actually wrote. There must be one of them, mustn't there?



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