Occupy Norway comes to Playhouse on Park with AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE through October 30
How is it that the perfect play for today's Occupy Wall Street movement was written in 19th century Norway? Arthur Miller's tautly-written 1950 adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People is shockingly relevant in 21st century America. This collision of one of America's greatest playwrights with the Norwegian master of drama needs no gimmicks to make it contemporary. Playhouse on Park's faithful take on Miller's respectful reworking of Ibsen elicits gasps and knowing laughs from an audience currently mired in the play's thorny issues of poverty, taxation, corruption, corporate greed, party politics, and, surprisingly, environmental havoc.
Ibsen's An Enemy of the People circles around the brothers Stockmann. Dr. Stockmann is the doctor in a small, struggling Norwegian fishing village. With deep investment in the town's supposedly curative spring waters, the hamlet is on the verge of opening a health spa that will turn the community into a lucrative tourist destination. Unfortunately, Dr. Stockmann's suspicions that the waters contain toxic run-off are proven true, thus jeopardizing the investments of the wealthy and powerful elite. Chief among the people who would stand to lose their shirt is the mayor, Stockmann's brother Peter, played by Michael McKenzie. Dr. Stockmann gives this explosive news to the community's liberal newspaper, a move quickly countered by Peter. What ensues is far more than a fraternal clash of wills. Battle lines are drawn and redrawn, morals give way to money, friends become foes, and a man who should be a hero rapidly becomes "an enemy of the people."
In Michael Moore's new memoir Here Comes Trouble, the highly controversial documentarian recounts how his anti-war remarks at the 2003 Oscars led to his ostracization from American society. Believing he had right on his side, Moore decried the U.S. war in Iraq only days after it began. With the majority of the country smarting from 9/11 and siding with the Bush Administration's story of weapons of mass destruction, he was booed and hastened from the stage. What ensued in Moore's life seems drawn from Ibsen's play: violence, isolation, anger and hatred. What has evolved in the United States over the past decade is even greater distrust of our government, our corporations, our media, and, yes, our family and neighbors. This play taps directly into the nerve center of our fractured national consciousness where the majority seems to be the pawn of the powerful and the lone man's voice is lost in the maelstrom.
At the center of Playhouse on Park's production are Equity actors Jeremiah Wiggins and Michael McKenzie playing the doctor and the mayor respectively. Both sink their teeth deliciously into their roles, tearing off the meaty dialogue and going after one another's throats. Brock Putnam, an actor returning to the stage after a 33 year absence, uses his booming voice and menacing presence to great effect in the role of Kiil, Dr. Stockmann's father-in-law-with-a-secret. Coleen Sciacca, perhaps a little too young for her role as Dr. Stockmann's wife Catherine, does a fine job as the voice of reason amidst the chaos. Allison Layman's portrayal of the chip-off-the-old-radical Petra is wonderfully passionate. As assorted friends, patsies and backstabbers, Joshua Everett Johnson, Aaron Barcelo, Nicholas Pollifrone and Michael Hanson all add to the dense political murk surrounding the increasingly lonely Dr. Stockmann.
Although some of the elements in the costumes and set, both designed by Randall Parsons, are not entirely successful, the production looks and feels fine. The sound, a mix of sonorous strings setting a dark Norwegian mood, is powerful and moving (although the injection of an air horn during a crowd scene seems anachronistic for an 1882 Norwegian fishing village).
Playhouse on Park proves once again that it is an artistic entity to watch with this rarely-produced, ferocious play. Although Arthur Miller's work burbles up on Connecticut stages with some frequency, Ibsen's work has been rarely spotted in these parts since Mark Lamos left Hartford Stage. Director Kyle Fabel's selection of An Enemy of the People is an incredibly astute barometer of our times. Oftentimes theaters feel like they are being timely in responding to current events when they program something months after the issue has cooled. With demonstrators camped out across the nation, some just a few miles from Playhouse on Park, this 129-year-old drama's time is now. Occupy Playhouse on Park!
Photo courtesy of Playhouse on Park.