Quote of the Day: A convenient lie…alternate facts…You can’t buy science! all these phrases are used in Brad Birch’s new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play An Enemy of the People. This play is screaming with relevancy. You have corporate greed, politics, science, and conscience all at battle. It’s like a car crash, and you can’t look away. I was riveted to the stage from start to finish (a 100 minute play with no intermission). It’s intense, and yet, not lacking humor. The actors, staging, set, sound, and lighting design are impeccable. Scenic Design by Merle Hensel is fascinating, a stage with many moving parts. It was like a revolving door. The actors moved in and out of the set changes, sometimes into a more enlightened space, other times dim. There were moments when I thought, “When did they make that change?” All the while our imaginations are filling in the details.
This is a play for the ages. In the notes from a collection of his plays, Ibsen is quoted as stating, “Dr. Stockmann and I got on so very well together; we agree on so many subjects. But the doctor is a more muddle-headed person than I am; and because of this and other peculiarities of his, people will stand hearing a good many things from him, which they perhaps would not have taken in good part if they had been said by me.” Ah, the use of art to express ourselves, to raise questions, and poke at the conscience. I could see it in the Guthrie’s production of this famous play. Ibsen was ahead of his time in social awareness, environmental issues, and his portrayal of women. His play A Doll’s House is one of my favorite plays. Playwright Brad Birch brings his modern adaptation to a world we know, but don’t fully understand. Issues that were coming to the front in 1882 are still relevant today. I couldn’t help but think of the protest of the pipelines in North Dakota.
I wonder about a character like Dr. Stockmann (and the real life people like him) who seem crazy. Are they truly the crazy ones because they become obsessed with justice, the environment, or challenging societal norms? Or, are they cast as crazy so their actions and theories can be written off, brushed to the side, as people go on their merry way reaping the benefits of cover-ups and raping of the land? Or, are the Dr. Stockmann’s of the world made crazy by the actions, and inactions, of those around them?
The play opens with Kate Stockmann (Sarah Agnew) waiting impatiently for her husband Dr. Stockmann (Billy Carter) to come home as they’re throwing a party in his honor. It seems he’s getting some press about his research on the Spa and The Springs that are feeding it. However, Stockmann has discovered that the water is contaminated, not just a little, but to a harmful, if not deadly, extent. He believes his news will rock their world. He expects the changes and disruption of life and fortune to be great. He does not expect to be shoved under the carpet and told to keep his mouth shut.
Dr. Tom Stockmann’s biggest adversary is the mayor and spa corporate executive Peter Stockmann (Ricardo Chavira), who is also his brother. He turns to the press for help. A reporter, Hovstad (a gender switch from the original is played by the brilliant Mo Perry) seems to believe the truth, but is unwilling to side with Tom because she has her own social pressures. The editor of the paper Aslaksen (J.C. Cutler) also abandons Tom.
Meanwhile, his daughter Petra (Christian Bardin) is drifting, caught up in her own unhealthy choices. Her mother, Kate, tries to be the voice of reason. Tom becomes obsessed with his findings and trying to get someone, anyone, to listen to him. His colleagues Morten (Zachary Fine) and Billing (Zarif Kabier) fall short. All of the actors do an amazing job of creating sympathy for their characters. You can see their point of view, even if you don’t agree with them. You understand that each action and decision doesn’t affect just one person or aspect of our environment. We are all interconnected, and Earth is home to all living things.
This is a play I would like to bring my boys to. They’re all young adults now, looking at the world, trying to figure out what’s right, what to fight for and believe in, and why people do the things they do. An Enemy of the People could stimulate some great conversations! I hope many people attend this performance with young people (but not children, it’s a little intense), high school seniors, and college students, as well as more mature adults.
An Enemy of the People is playing at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through June 3, 2018.
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Journaling Prompt: What environmental or social issues are burning on your heart?