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Snow did not keep PlayMakers Repertory Company from opening its latest blockbuster, Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrick Ibsen’s 1881 play marks the creation of what might be the first case of whistleblowing. In a town full of government corruption and greed, Dr. Thomas Stockmann dares to go against authority and declare that the mineral springs, a spa that is sure to put the town on the map, is actually polluted with detritus from the local tannery. Once he makes this discovery, he rapidly becomes persona non grata at the hands of his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann, who uses his influence and power to make a pariah out of his brother and turn the entire town against him.
PRC has selected a superb pair of actors to play the antagonists in this work. Dr. Thomas Stockmann is portrayed by Michael Bryan French, whose stage, film, and television credits are lengthy. Squaring off against him is Anthony Newfield as Peter. Newfield’s credits extend from Broadway to international stages in Ireland and Russia. As these two men match wits onstage, a firestorm of resistance is built up in the citizenry of the town against what Peter terms as subterfuge and destruction. Thomas cannot understand what is happening; he only understands that the waters of the springs are polluted, and everything else is of minor consequence to that.
Joining these two onstage are familiar faces: Katherine Stockman is played by Julia Gibson (PRC’s Into the Woods, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike); Aslaksen, the town’s newspaper publisher, is played by Jeffrey Blair Cornell, a long-standing PRC staple; David Adamson portrays Morten Kiil, Thomas' greedy father-in-law; and Derrick Ivey plays Captain Horster, a longtime friend of Thomas' and the only person who stands beside Thomas and his family when the rest of the town is against them.
Director Tom Quaintance assembled a striking and talented crew to bring this play to life. McKay Coble designed the set, which includes the home of Dr. Stockmann, the offices of the newspaper, and the home of Captain Horster. This set also includes a major addition in the form of rain, which falls immediately after Scene I. As thunder and lightning strike, rain falls from the “skies,” a network of lights and stage props above that have been specifically lit with two fresnels in order to show the marvel of their workings. Patrick Holt designed the costumes, set in the 1950s as indicated by Miller’s adaptation. The sound and music, designed by Robert Dagit, supplied a fine and haunting soundtrack to this piece.
An Enemy of the People was written by Ibsen as a reaction to the receipt of his play Ghosts, which was reviled by the people and the critics alike. It is the most quickly written of his plays, and it looks at corporate greed, government corruption, the inconstancy of the press, and a variety of social woes such as blind obedience, mob mentality, and the tyranny of the majority. That these subjects are still headliners is obvious. Miller’s updating of the play from 1881 to 1950 does nothing to lessen these topics; if anything, his turn underscores these aspects of the play and intensifies them for the audience. Quaintance and his cast and crew throw these aspects from the stage like daggers, with a tense building of suspense that is masterful.
But the essence of this work is the standing alone of the individual against all odds. As Thomas says, “The strong must learn to be lonely.” It is a signature that applies to all such men of vision, as to Ibsen himself.
An Enemy of the People continues through Sunday, March 15. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.