When a play causes feelings of tension and unpredictability in the audience about its unfolding, it’s clear the actors have done their job right.
Henrik Ibsen originally wrote An Enemy of the People in 1882. As the program notes, however, the play – and without a doubt, its message as well − “still rings true today”. Arthur Miller’s adaptation of the play, directed by Ian Malcolm, runs at the Domino Theatre in Kingston until Nov. 1.
Contrasting personalities of the characters, often-heated interactions and changing loyalties make up for the minimal sets and props employed onstage.
The crux of the play stems from a confirmed discovery by Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Harold G. Potter), that the waters of Kirsten Springs – the town’s health spa − are polluted.
Believing this discovery will be well received in the town, the doctor sends a letter in this regard to the mayor (Brent Neely), who also happens to be his brother. But their rocky relationship continues to ring true as the mayor refuses to accept the gravity of the discovery and attempts to assert authority over his brother to prevent him from revealing the findings.
The play follows the doctor in his conviction to act on the findings, notwithstanding the negative effects these actions could have on the tourist-heavy town’s economy and, as later becomes apparent, on the well-being of his wife (Anne-Marie Bergman) and children (Dylan Chenier, Lauren Knight and Quentin Levesque).
The town newspaper initially becomes involved as its editors wish to publish Dr. Stockmann’s report on the water situation. This, they believe, will reveal the faults of many in the town administration and usher in “[a] new, ‘liberal’ government.”
To the doctor’s dissatisfaction, however, the mayor continues to find ways of preventing him from successfully disseminating his findings and gaining support for his objectives.
Virtually all citizens – in turn, the editors as well − rally behind the mayor and his “moral authority”, despite the latter’s complete ignorance in handling the crisis at hand. It’s this very idea that lands the doctor the title of ‘enemy of the people.’
An inherent tension exists in the play between staying true to one’s beliefs or what’s true – and living with the consequences of this – and succumbing to distorted deals in the name of maintaining order and respect from others.
Multiple tests of character and commitment to the truth occur throughout the play, keeping audience members on the edge of their seats. Stockmann, however, surpasses these challenges, all the while demonstrating an exceptional character that should – both by the nature of the role and the acting itself – be highly applauded.
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