Aptly timed, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, Enemy of the People, resonates now more than ever. Like many other forms of art these days, this play seem to hit harder and more ironically under Donald Trump’s unpredicted presidency. Although Ibsen’s play was originally aimed at taking down Victorian ideals, after his play Ghosts was deemed scandalous, now the play questions the basis of democracy.
In a small town, Dr. Stockmann (Larry Mitchell) has discovered that the water that runs through the baths is horribly polluted from the tannery runoff. If the baths aren’t shut down immediately, most citizens will get sick and others will have slow, painful deaths. After getting his tests triple-checked, he knows he has to act. Brother to the Mayor (Mike Giese), Stockmann knows that his brother prizes his political seat more than the well-being of the people. The man of science goes around his brother and goes to two people he knows he can count on—editors of a far-left paper eager to take down the Mayor.
Although they’re horrified by the ramifications of keeping the baths open at first, the Mayor tells the two that the baths are essentially the town’s main income. If the baths go down, the entire town is going to suffer, and the townspeople will have to pay fix them. This argument is completely reasonable. The Mayor, named Peter, is earnest. He sounds convincing and not like he barely believes the alternative facts coming out of his mouth. He’s not even defensive when he’s confronted by the editors. He’s the perfect politician. Hours earlier, these editors were gleefully eager to run Stockmann’s lab results on the paper’s front page, but after the Mayor’s revelations, they want to keep the information from the public. If you remember your principles of democracy, that’s not what the press is meant to do.
As Stockmann watches his hard facts become twisted in the hands of his friends and family, he becomes more outraged and unhinged. In a town hall, he’s literally silenced by the “impartial” moderator when it’s clear that he’s not going to read from a statement about how the baths are currently fine, but the rumors will be investigated—eventually. Stockmann goes on a rant about how democracy isn’t working and that the majority shouldn’t be making decisions. They’re stupid. They’re uninformed. They’re not on the “right” side this time. Because of this outburst, Stockmann is branded an “enemy of the people” and becomes a social pariah, losing all of his credibility.
If these cries sound familiar, it’s nearly what the media has been roaring for the past year or so. This century-old play shows what could happen to a democracy when in the hands of people who think they know what’s good for people. Stockmann is told by his daughter that the townspeople are starting to get sick, but he’s powerless to do anything about it.
In the final scene, Stockmann’s smart and still optimistic daughter, Petra (Roxanne Wells’s stage debut), waxes poetically about water. Although this town’s water is toxic, America’s water might still be pure, she says. In 1882, this statement would have been filled to the brim with hope, but now, it leaves behind a bitter taste, leaving the viewer to wonder about this country’s future. Relying mostly on Ibsen’s words, this adaptation of Enemy of the People lets the story stand for itself.
Starring: Jeremy Folmer, Eliza Foss, Mike Giese, Reade Kelly, Larry Mitchell, Katherine Neuman, Martin Van Treuren, Spiff Wiegand and Roxanne Wells.
Written by: Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by: Seth Barrish and K. Lorrel Manning
Directed by: K. Lorrel Manning
Through: April 1 at The Barrow Group