Review: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE at Austin Shakespeare

A thought-provoking expose of the influence of mob-mentality. Now playing through Sunday December 17th, 2023

By: Dec. 17, 2023
Review: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE at Austin Shakespeare
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Henrik Ibsen, widely recognized as the world's second-most performed playwright after Shakespeare, skillfully explores the nuances of modern consciousness, drawing parallels with the style of Greek tragedians unraveling complexities in ancient times. Written in 1882, An Enemy of the People  draws inspiration from Ibsen's personal encounters with criticism following the controversy surrounding his 1881 play, "Ghosts." This earlier work, exploring themes of sexual vice, moral decay, and syphilis, transformed Ibsen into an unexpected populist adversary due to its mixed reviews.

Standing as one of Ibsen's most fervent creations, An Enemy of the People depicts a Greek-style tragedy where mass conformity and ignorance act as forces akin to divinely ordained fate. Here, truth and reason assume the role of hubris, guiding the protagonist—an unyielding and proud hero—toward an inevitable catastrophe. The play uniquely delves into the shortcomings of democracy, making it acutely relevant in an era marked by pseudo-populism, climate denial, "alternative facts," "fake news," and the out-of-control misinformation campaigns driven by social media.

An Enemy of the People unfolds in a small Norwegian coastal town, where Dr. Tomas Stockmann, the chief medical officer for a new medicinal spa known as the Baths, discovers that the water system is responsible for a mysterious illness outbreak. Seeking to alert the public, he initially gains support from influential figures but faces opposition when the mayor, his brother, prioritizes political and economic interests over the truth. Isolated from media and family support, Dr. Stockmann attempts to communicate directly with the townspeople. However, a town hall meeting turns hostile as public opinion is manipulated against him. Unable to discuss the Baths, he exposes societal "pollution" and the lack of independent thinking, leading to a vote that declares him an official "enemy of the people."

There are numerous themes worth exploring in this outstanding play: democracy, social responsibility, the power of the press, self-interest groups in politics, the role of education in a free society, the role of social media in politics and public opinion, and individualism over group-thinking. This review focuses on Austin Shakespeare’s presentation, encouraging audiences to delve into Henrik Ibsen's world independently. You can start by attending one of the upcoming performances of An Enemy of the People,  now running through Sunday December 17th.

Mark Pellegrino, renowned for his television appearances in “Lost”, “The Closer”, “Supernatural”, and notable film roles in “The Big Lebowski”, “Mulholland Dr”, and “Capote”, brings his talents to Austin for a staged reading of An Enemy of the People. In this performance, Pellegrino delivers a captivating portrayal of Dr. Tomas Stockmann, a character marked by naivety and self-absorption. Driven by his temper and unwavering determination to informing the public about the truth regarding the town's baths, Stockmann finds himself labeled as an enemy of the people. Pellegrino's commanding stage presence and natural acting abilities infuse depth and authenticity into a character that undergoes a significant emotional arc throughout the play. His performance adds a layer of richness to the narrative, making the reading a noteworthy and engaging experience for the audience.

Review: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE at Austin Shakespeare
Mark Pellegrino as Dr. Tomas Stockmann in An Enemy of the People
PC: Austin Shakespeare

Samuel Grimes delivers a performance charged with brooding intensity in the role of Peter Stockmann, Dr. Stockmann's brother and the town's mayor. In his role, Grimes introduces a layer of contemporary realism to the play and skillfully embodies the character of a politician more focused on preserving power than doing the job he was elected to do. His portrayal serves as a poignant reminder of the prevalent dynamics observed in many contemporary political figures. 

Tim Blackwood shines as Aslaksen, the town's printer and businessman, using prudence and discretion as euphemisms for duplicity and opportunism. Pablo Muñoz-Evers excels as Hovstad, the town's leftist journalist, deftly leveraging the press to manipulate public opinion.

While Ibsen is known for empowering women in his plays, the female voices in this specific text are notably subdued, often relegated to supporting roles amid the conflicts unfolding among the men of the town. Helen merino gives a captivating performance as Dr. Stockmann's wife, Katherine, portraying a typical woman of the times. Her character is primarily depicted as one caring for the children and supporting her husband's pursuit of truth, lacking a strong voice in the unfolding events. Veronica Kraemer gives the role of Dr. Stockmann's daughter Petra poise and versatility, introducing a hint of a rebellious voice, although not as pronounced as Ibsen often does in his other works.

Rounding up the phenomenal cast of An Enemy of the People are Sparky Anderson as Morten Stockmann, Ev Lunning as Morten Kiil, Chuck Winkler as Billing, and Peter Shine as Captain Horster. 

Under the expert direction of Ann Ciccolella, the cast of An Enemy of the People presents audiences with an outstanding and important piece of theatre. The chemistry among the actors is palpable and enjoyable as the cast feels like a real family. In the unique setting of a staged reading, where actors lack the support of sets or props and cannot physically interact with one another as in a typical staged performance, this cast surpasses these constraints. Their ability to convey the message is clear, realistic, and relatable and showcases their exceptional talents.

Austin Shakespeare’s presentation of An Enemy of the People offers a memorable experience and encourages audiences to explore the complexities and important themes highlighted in Ibsen’s masterpiece.

Duration: 2.5 hours including a 20 min intermission.

An Enemy of the People

Written by Henrik Ibsen

Directed by Ann Ciccolella

Austin Shakespeare at KMFA

Draylen Mason Music Studio

41 Navasota St, Austin, TX 78702

Now playing through December 17th, 2023

Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM

Sunday at 2:30 PM