Thursday, June 11, 2020

152. ENEMIES. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Nancy Marchand, Barbara Cook, Frances Sternhagen, Joseph Wiseman..
ENEMIES [Drama/Family/Labor/Political/Russian] A: Maxim Gorky; D: Ellis Rabb; TR: Jeremy Brooks and Kitty Hunter-Blair; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Ann Roth; L: John Gleason; M: Cathy McDonald; P: Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center; T: Vivian Beaumont Theatre; 11/1/71-12/16/72 (44)

First act curtain: company of Enemies.
Maxim Gorky’s 1906 Russian drama about social conditions just prior to the 1905 revolution had never been staged in New York before this Lincoln Center production, so it was not technically a revival. Although produced in Berlin by Max Reinhardt in 1907, its first Russian production had to wait until 1932. The New York showing drew strong notices from influential critics, but  few were noticeably dissatisfied To some, the wide approval of the production was bitterly ironic, as it came just after Jules Irving, following years of struggling to make a viable not-for-profit institution out of the Lincoln Center Repertory Company, had tendered his resignation.

The similarity of Gorky’s picture of turn-of-the-century Russian gentry to Chekhov’s more masterly treatments was witnessed by all, John Simon going to greater lengths than any to point out the inferiority of the younger writer’s pamphleteering style when compared with the more deeply human methods of his brilliant predecessor.

Philip Bosco, Barbara Cook.
Enemies concerns the well-to-do middle-class residents of a large country estate, owned by a family whose senior member is a well-meaning, liberal-minded factory owner named Zahkai Bardin (Robert Symonds) in partnership with the hardline conservative Mikhail Skrobotov (Philip Bosco). The exploited, socialistic workers at the factory go on strike, and the hated Skrobotov is killed bullet during a skirmish. Soon, the army arrives, as does a vituperative district attorney (Josef Sommer), the dead man’s brother, who is determined to uncover the murderer.

Joseph Wiseman, Susan Sharkey, Christopher Walken, Nancy Marchand.
The remainder of the action, during which the solidarity of the workers is displayed vis-à-vis the irresolution and waywardness of their oppressors, is devoted essentially to an exploration of the drama’s many characters. In the course of the play, the audience recognizes that the title refers not only to the enmity between the workers and the bourgeoisie, but to the fact that the latter are their own worst enemies.

Among the most positive responses to this admittedly propagandistic work were those of Clive Barnes and Walter Kerr. The former called it “a moving and provocative evening,” stressing the power of Gorky’s vision while acknowledging the general effectiveness of the staging. Kerr, on the other hand, thought the play tendentious,” but eulogized Ellis Rabb’s direction for having “given the Vivian Beaumont its finest production in years,” with an exquisite control over spatial arrangements matched by subtle shading in all the performances. He was greatly impressed by the culminating scene, in which the universally admired set of a three-story country home revolved slowly to display the various characters’ responses to a suicide that gradually came into focus.

Harold Clurman extolled the play as “so virile, rich, unsentimentally compassionate that it inspires hope.” Simon, grudgingly appreciative of the writing, took umbrage at Rabb’s production for its “grotesque wrongheadedness.” Among his fine-toothed criticisms was one aimed at Rabb’s conception of that final scene, which so appealed to Kerr. There was also a smattering of reviewers, including Brendan Gill and Martin Gottfried, who could abide neither play nor performance.

For those who liked the acting, stellar work was contributed by Nancy Marchand, Susan Sharkey as Nadya, Frances Sternhagen as Pauline, and Philip Bosco. The noteworthy cast also included such distinguished, then or in the future, names as Joseph Wiseman, Stefan Schnabel, Will Lee, Barbara Cook, and Christopher Walken.