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Auds friendly to Sheffield 'Enemy'.

AUDIENCES FLOCKING TO "AN Enemy of the People," the inaugural production at reopened regional theater the Sheffield Crucible, are discovering that "Jaws" wasn't the first drama to find something fishy in the water.

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Ibsen's 1882 thriller about corruption and local politics centers on Stockmann (Antony Sher), who discovers the water in a new spa is infested with poisonous bacteria. But his public-spirited attempt to blow the whistle meets with blistering opposition from those with vested interests in the town's prosperity.

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For all the fierceness of its timely debates on public vs. private morality and the role of the press, the play is a bold drama teeming with life, as evidenced by the climactic public scene staged by recently appointed a.d. Daniel Evans with a cast of 60.

The play's potential as a statement of intent has been seized upon before. In 1997, Trevor Nunn used the Ibsen drama to open his five-year tenure as a.d. of the National Theater. But where that production didn't escape charges of grandiosity (its overuse of a revolving stage had naysayers labeling it "Enemy, the Musical") Evans' production has power without the bombast.

The 980-seat Crucible needs a hit for the simple reason it has been dark for two years undergoing a 15.3 million [pounds sterling] ($22.9 million) renovation that came in on time and on budget. Good news, then, that in addition to being a critical hit, the show is doing fine business.

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"We've still got three weeks to go in an almost six-week run, and we've already hit 65% of capacity and easily exceeded our target," the ebullient Evans says.

The new a.d. is finalizing a still-under-wraps 2010-11 slate that will include a major musical at Christmas, a season devoted to a leading British playwright, and Evans own production of "Hamlet" starring John Simm.

"Other theaters favor a more experimental approach--rethinking plays for found spaces and so forth," says Evans. "I want to do that possibly old-fashioned thing of producing great plays that are well-directed, well-designed and acted, but that speak to us now."

Until his appointment 10 months ago, Evans was known almost exclusively as an actor. He has two Oliviers and was Tony-nominated for his role in "Sunday in the Park With George," but had only helmed three shows. Yet one of his predecessors at the Crucible was another ex-actor with similarly limited directing experience when he took on the job: Michael Grandage.

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Title Annotation:LEGIT; An Enemy of the People
Author:Benedict, David
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 8, 2010
Words:413
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