Two very different civic-minded plays shed light on our societal woes. Both of them are more than slightly cynical about democracy and its discontents.
Actually there is a third, “Disgraced” but more on that later and below.
“Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them,” at Second Stage Theatre through November 4th, is a quirky and off-beat comedy tackling an extremely tricky subject.
“An Enemy of the People,” by Henrik Ibsen via adapter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, in a Manhattan Theater Club production at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through November 11th, is a sincere diatribe.
|Boyd Gaines as Dr. Thomas Stockmann and Richard Thomas as his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann in “An Enemy of the People.” Photo by Joan Marcus.
Unlike “Modern Terrorism,” which, despite its silly premise and over-the-top slapstick and banter, is coherent, “An Enemy of the People” is a total muddle. The civic dialogue “An Enemy of the People”purports to hold teeters between anti-populism and democratic idealism.
| Nitya Vidyasagar as Yalda with Steven Boyer as Jerome Photo by Joan Marcus.
Terrorists, of course, are scare-mongers bent on destruction through fear. In “Modern Terrorism,” the terrorists are merely people who see the world differently than we do. There is a danger of underestimating one’s enemy, of course. Or perhaps, it’s disarming to look at the feared, reviled and frightening as ordinary folk. The cell in “Modern Terrorism,” run by Qala (William Jackson Harper) are the Keystone Kops of terror. As Jerome, the American who lives upstairs asks “Why are you so hell-bent on destroying the US, when it’s doing is so well on its own?
|William Jackson Harper as Qala with Utkarsh Ambudkar as Rahim
Photo by Joan Marcus from “Modern Terrorism.”
Rahim (Utkarsh Ambudkar), the designated martyr, is chosen for his boyish naïveté. He wants to fit in, and be “chill.” Denied the chance to be just one of the gang in his college, he throws in with Qala and Yalda (Nitya Vidyasagar). Accustomed to not meeting expectations, Rahim accepts Qala’s and Yalda’s disappointment in him resignedly.
While there is a clarity of vision and even some compassion in “Modern Terrorism,” “An Enemy of the People” lacks a compelling narrative.
There is no subtlety in this “An Enemy of the People.” It’s all silk-hatted villainy
and shouting. Bombast and bluster further muddle an already muddled and somewhat uninteresting, if timely, plot. Hints of the current debate about fracking are peeking out of
Lenkiewicz’s adaptation. Mayor Peter Stockmann (Richard Thomas) has a perrenial smirk that stands in for mustache-twirling. The noise of its screaming is not the only thing that condenms “An Enemy of the People.”
Producing this modernized version of Ibsen’s play seeks to capitalize on the political silly season. Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Boyd Gaines) is at odds with his brother the Mayor. His desire to save the town in which he was born is overwhelmed by a cynicism. He calls liberals and populists, those who rule and the majority who allow themselves to be ruled to the carpet. If the honest man is alone, as Dr. Stockmann seems to think, is democracy also on the carpet?
|Photo by Erin Baiano. Karen Pittman, Erik Jensen, Heidi Armbruster and Aasif Mandvi in “Disgraced.”
Unfortunately, even the usually superb Boyd Gaines is swallowed up in the noise and fury of
“An Enemy of the People.” The stand out in the cast is Gerry Bamman as the printer, Aslaksen, whose bourgeois interests overwhelm his sense of right.
In “Modern Terrorism,” the geo-political is seriously funny and darkly sad. The small cast are all excellent. Stephen Boyer’s slacker Jerome, William Jackson Harper as Qala, the self-important leader are both wonderfully played. Utkarsh Ambudkar gives us a complicated and sweet Rahim. Nitya Vidyasagarplays Yalda as a young modern woman, whose disappointments fuel her anger.
Sometimes ethnic history is a minefield, and in “Disgraced,” a new play by Ayad Akhtar, at LCT3’s Claire Tow Theater extended through December 2nd, the sensitive and even touchy matters of identity are explored in serious and unexpected ways.
Amir (Aasif Mandvi) and Emily (Heidi Armbruster) are a happy and prosperous couple. He is a forceful and intelligent corporate attorney. He is uncomfortable with the fact that she paints intricate and delicate works based in the Islamic tradition. In fact, Amir is uncomfortable with Islam. He is an apostate, bent on maintaining his place in the white man’s world. His nephew, Abe (Omar Maskati.) a devout follower of the Muslim faith, is the sole reminder of his past. By distancing himself from his traditions and family history, Amir has gone adrift and become disaffected. Is there a tribal identity that will out no matter who we try to become?
“Disgraced” traverses the divide in understanding in a compelling and smart script. Its a well-wrought study of the complications that befall family and friendship.
For more information about MTC’s “An Enemy of the People,” please visit http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/.
Visit http://www.2st.com/ to learn more about “Modern Terrorism…”
For a schedule and information about “Disgraced,” visit http://www.lct.org/index_lct3.htm