The courage to stand behind one's convictions and expose the truth, no matter the cost, gives Henrik Ibsen's 1882 masterpiece An Enemy of the People a remarkably prescient power.
Presented in an elegant new translation written and directed by Alex Roe, An Enemy of the People concerns Dr. Tomas Stockmann, the staff physician at the municipal baths in a provincial coastal town in southern Norway. Stockmann discovers that the baths are contaminated with pollutants from nearby mill towns. Determined to go public with his findings, he is at first able to enlist the support of the town's media and working class. But as it becomes ever more apparent that the local politicians are more concerned with losing tourism dollars than in spending the money required to fix the problem, Tomas finds his support eroding to the point where he becomes a pariah.
Remaining true to the period, Mr. Roe's beautifully written script is a concise, clear adaptation that manages to put a contemporary spin on Ibsen's text without sacrificing any of his wit and passion.
In the central role of his own production, Roe tore into Stockmann with the white-hot energy of a self-righteous pit bull. Charming, intelligent, and totally exasperating, his Stockmann was unwavering in his convictions, powerless to stop from plunging himself and his family into a public (and private) hell. In a less showy role, Sidney Fortner infused Stockmann's wife Katrine with a warm, gracious dignity, matching Roe's explosiveness with a quieter, but no less intense, energy of her own. And Bob Harbaum as Hovstad, the editor of the town's newspaper, oozed oily, insincere charm, negotiating his character's abrupt about-face with an ease that was as believable as it was facile.
But Mr. Roe's production, though never less than professional, didn't quite spark despite his fiery presence at it's center. Several key performances were not what they should have been, and although Roe's point of view was remarkably lucid, there was a strange coolness to his direction that prevented it from catching fire. The moments when it did come to vivid life, while haunting, were all the more frustrating because the apparent potential for a more powerful production was thrown into sharp bas-relief.
Mr. Roe also served as set designer for the production, and provided a spacious, rather cold, but perfectly functional three-level playing area. Dvorah Geller's period costumes were true to character, and Mary vel Bergen's lighting captured the northern light of late spring, establishing time, place, and mood with warm precision.
If Mr. Roe had worn a few less hats, this Enemy of the People might have capitalized on its potential. As it was, it was a solidly respectable production of a play that is as timely as it was 117 years ago. More perhaps.
(Also featuring Karen Allen, Leo Bertelsen, Liam
Brennan, Patrick Brennan, Ian Gould, John
King, Barry Simpson, and Doug Stone, with the
voices of Jeff Drushal and Frank Nicolo.)
Return to Volume Five, Number Eleven Index
Return to Volume Five Index
Return to Home Page
Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita