Adapted by Arthur Miller
From the Play by Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Jason Fleece
Produced by Stage Left Theatre
At Theater Wit, Chicago
The strongest one is the one who stands alone
Powerful drama pits one righteous man verses the common good of society.
Arthur Miller wrote his adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People in response to the political climate fostered by McCarthyism in 1950. Enemy deals with questions such as: should the majority always rule? Who is responsible when the majority is wrong? Should a righteous man stand up for truth at any cost or should he compromise for the benefit of his family and his personal well being? Miller’s powerful adaptation of Ibsen play unfortunately is still relevant today.
We meet the Stockmann family in 1959 in a small town in coastal Norway. Peter Stockmann (Cory Krebsbach) is the mayor and his brother Thomas (William J. Watt) is the town doctor with the nice family. We see that Mayor Peter is a stiff and commanding person while the doctor is a gregarious healer-scientists. The doctor is ever the optimist who sees the good in people and society.
When Dr. Stockmann discovers that the town’s spring water has been contaminated with bacteria that can poison folks, he unleashes a conflict that threatens the economic viability of the entire town. The springs are to be a tourist attraction with the springs marketed for their healing powers for the sick. Despite the doctor’s proof that his initial findings are correct, Mayor Peter Stockmann tries intimidation to silence his brother.
Initially the liberal town newspaper editor, Hovstad (Brian Polharczyk) was on the doctors side along with his publisher Aslaksen (James Eldrenkamp). These liberals back the public’s right to know and they oppose the current conservative power structure so anything that can embarrass the mayor is their meat. They assure the doctor that they’ll print the report that verifies his findings about the poisoned water.
However, once the mayor power plays the newspaper with the argument that publishing the report would kill tourism thereby hurting the town’s economy and that fixing the springs would mean a large new tax on all the citizens and all businesses. The mayor further questions the facts of the report and hid brother’s mental state. Once the mayor intimates the press into not printing the report, he starts a blitz against his brother the doctor that includes the entire family.
Molding public opinion through media manipulation and turning one lone individual against society are cleverly dramatized as a cautionary tale. We witness the huge price one individual pays, both for himself and his family, by sticking to his belief that truth matters. Ibsen wrote An Enemy of the People in 1882 – Miller adapted it in 1950 – and it still rings true today.
Director Jason Fleece smartly builds the dramatic tension as the stakes grow higher and the movement from intimidation to bribery affects Doctor Stockmann’s actions. William J. Watt gives a tour de force performance as the determined righteous doctor. Witt’s emotional range moves from optimism to rage as his faith in humanity becomes questioned as most of the town turns against him. Cory Krebsbach was chillingly effective as the powerful town mayor. An Enemy of the People is a riveting theatrical experience that reminds us that sometimes it only takes one lone voice to makes social or political change despite the whims of the majority. William J. Witt’s performance alone makes this play worth seeing.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 1, 2011
For full show information, check out the An Enemy of the People page at Theatre In Chicago.
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, www.stagelefttheatre.com, tickets $22, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through April 3, 2011