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Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” Explores the Whistleblower’s Dilemma in Depth at PRC

The PlayMakers Rep cast includes (standing, from left) Jeffrey Blair Cornell as the printer Aslaksen, Allison Altman as Petra Stockmann, Julia Gibson as Mrs. Catherine Stockmann, and Michael Bryan French as Dr. Thomas Stockmann (photo by Jon Gardiner)

The PlayMakers Rep cast includes (standing, from left) Jeffrey Blair Cornell as the printer Aslaksen, Allison Altman as Petra Stockmann, Julia Gibson as Mrs. Catherine Stockmann, and Michael Bryan French as Dr. Thomas Stockmann (photo by Jon Gardiner)

American dramatist and screenwriter Arthur Miller adapted Lars Nordenson’s translation of An Enemy of the People, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s rebuttal play for his Ghosts, which was variously referred to as “abominable,” “revoltingly suggestive,” “malodorous,” “Maunderings of nookshotten Norwegians,” and more epithets of displeasure.

Ibsen was more concerned with larger questions than syphilis and its immoral origins in Ghosts. He was concerned with the falsity of apparent democracy, the tensions between the crowd that called itself the majority and thus empowered the State, and the wisdom-cum-perception of the individual, whom he regarded as genius.

In An Enemy of the People, Dr. Thomas Stockmann has discovered that the local springs — which are viewed by the world as healthful, and are fast becoming a tourist attraction that can bring immense wealth to the town — are, in fact, poisoned by the run-off of his father-in-law’s tannery. His efforts to close the springs are first welcomed by the press; but the doctor’s brother, town Mayor Peter Stockmann, changes all that and brings down upon Dr. Stockmann the full wrath of the unthinking mob. He convinces them that Stockmann’s motives are destructive and adroitly manages to keep his brother’s scientific report from being circulated, using clever parliamentary procedures to cut off all discussion.

"An Enemy of the People" stars Anthony Newfield (left) and Michael Bryan French as the irate town mayor Peter Stockmann, shown here confronting his younger brother and subordinate, municipal-bath medical officer-turned-water-pollution whistleblower Dr. Thomas Stockmann (photo by Jon Gardiner)

“An Enemy of the People” stars Anthony Newfield (left) and Michael Bryan French as the irate town mayor Peter Stockmann, shown here confronting his younger brother and subordinate, municipal-bath medical officer-turned-water-pollution whistleblower Dr. Thomas Stockmann (photo by Jon Gardiner)

The self-appointed hero of the play, Dr. Stockmann, is a tough role. This protagonist must not only fight against this immediate problem, the poisoning of the springs which will ruin the town, but also carry Ibsen’s notion that democracy, as it is viewed by the people who believe they live in a democracy, is flawed deeply by the perception that it works, where in fact the majority are necessarily always wrong. Thus, the audience must decide whether his actions are heroic or the uncompromising adamancy of a self-righteous mind. Michael Bryan French walks that tightrope well, making his character’s primary thrust the exposing of government officials rather than finding a solution to the problem, leaving his true motives questionable.

Dr. Stockmann’s brother Peter is carefully drawn by Anthony Newfield, who portrays him as a man who appears reasonable, but manipulates circumstances to his own end. His concern for his brother notwithstanding, he reflects a similar singleness of purpose.

Benjamin Curns gives us Hovstad, the editor of the town newspaper, The Messenger, a man who is excited to bring down the local government officials that he sees as corrupt, and can’t wait to publish Stockmann’s report. Curns neatly turns his character against the doctor in the face of prevailing thought that it would be ruinous to the town.

John Allore does a magnificent drunk, who disrupts the town meeting in an attempt to allow Dr. Stockmann to speak, but ultimately fails in his attempts. Mrs. Catherine Stockmann, the doctor’s wife, is sympathetically played by Julia Gibson. She, with their three children, maintain a loyalty to him when the whole town has turned on him. Derrick Ivey assumes the role of Captain Horster, the one true ally Stockmann is left with, giving the role the protective and understanding characteristics that the role requires.

Shown here are Michael Bryan French (center) as Dr. Thomas Stockmann, the municipal-bath's medical officer, with Benjamin Curns (left) and Gregory DeCandia as Hovstad and Billing, the editor and sub-editor of "The People's Daily Messenger" (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Shown here are Michael Bryan French (center) as Dr. Thomas Stockmann, the municipal-bath’s medical officer, with Benjamin Curns (left) and Gregory DeCandia as Hovstad and Billing, the editor and sub-editor of “The People’s Daily Messenger” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Director Tom Quaintance drives this performance like tumbleweed rolling the streets of a frontier township, scene falling upon scene with a snap and polish that brings the action to life.

Arthur Miller’s rationale for adapting this play for American audiences of the 1950s is perfectly understandable, and it is likely the question of the efficacy of democracy and the role of the committed radical in an imperfect system will probably always be with us.

SECOND OPINION: March 2nd Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2015/03/02/excellent-production-of-an-enemy-of-the-people-at-playmakers-rep/; March 2nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/03/02/4593961/prcs-terrific-enemy-reflects-todays.html; March 1st Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7293; March 1st Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) review by Sarah McQuillan (who awarded the show 4.5 of 5 stars): http://www.dailytarheel.com/blog/canvas/2015/03/enemy-of-the-people-review and Feb. 25th preview by Sarah McQuillan: http://www.dailytarheel.com/blog/canvas/2015/02/enemy-of-the-people-preview; Feb. 26th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/x1271336596/A-PLAY-FOR-ALL-TIMES-PlayMakers-to-present-An-Enemy-of-the-People Note: You must subscribe to read this article); Feb. 25th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/playmakers-an-enemy-of-the-people/Event?oid=4318064; and Feb. 14th Chapel Hill, NC WCHL Chapelboro radio interview with director Tom Quaintance and actors Michael Bryan French and Anthony Newfield, conducted by D.G. Martin for “Who’s Talking with D.G. Martin”: http://audio.chapelboro.com.s3.amazonaws.com/2015/02/14/WHOS%20TALKING%20WITH%20DG%20MARTIN_PLAYMAKERS_WEB.mp3. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 24th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/02/arthur-millers-1950-adaptation-of-an-enemy-of-the-people-by-henrik-ibsen-is-a-timely-topical-drama/.)

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE at 7:30 p.m. March 3-6, 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 7, 2 p.m. March 8, 7:30 p.m. March 10-14, and 2 p.m. March 15 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15 and up. Click here for special ticket prices for UNC students, other college students), UNC faculty and staff, and U.S. military personnel and their immediate families.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/anenemyofthepeople.

NEWS RELEASE (UNC Office of Communications and Public Affairs): http://uncnews.unc.edu/2015/02/02/playmakers-presents-enemy-people-feb-25-march-15/.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be an All-Access Performance performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3rd.

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 8th, performances.

NOTE 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 7th (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).

NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 15th, performances.

OTHER LINKS:

An Enemy of the People (En folkefiende) (1882 play): http://ibsen.nb.no/id/267.0 (National Library of Norway) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Enemy_of_the_People (Wikipedia).

Henrik Ibsen (Norwegian playwright, 1828-1906): http://ibsen.nb.no/id/11111004.0 (National Library of Norway), http://www.ibsensociety.liu.edu/ (Ibsen Society of America), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henrik_Ibsen (Wikipedia).

An Enemy of the People (1950 adaptation): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1795 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.).

Script/Study Guide: http://www.cis-edu.dk/uploaded/student_life/drama/enemy/enemy_miller.pdf (Copenhagen International School).

Arthur Miller (American playwright and Ibsen adapter, 1915-2005): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Miller (Wikipedia).

Tom Quaintance (PRC guest director): http://www.cfrt.org/about-us/#tab-2 (Cape Fear Regional Theatre) and http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=46909a0a-d323-4387-b2f3-42a838889c81 (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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