BWW Review: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE at Gamut Theatre Group
An Enemy of the People was originally written in 1882 by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. In 1950 Arthur Miller's adaptation of the play premiered. With its exploration of morality, hypocrisy, power, and wealth, it is a play that speaks as clearly to our world today as it did in 1882 and in 1950. This powerful work is presented by Gamut Theatre Group through March 15th. In the words of director FL Henley, Jr., "The parallels between the themes in the play and the state of American politics in 2016 were stark and obvious. Political corruption, moral relativism, science denial, media bias, the mutability of objective truths, bare-faced fraud and polarization to the extreme, leading inexorably to the demonization of all opposition and the manipulation of an intransigent, faceless mob. What has shocked me most in the 3 years I've been working on this project is how the parallels have only increased."
Gamut's production is set in the 1970s. The costume design by Jen Kilander, wig and hair design by Danelle Cook, and scenic design by Andrew Nyberg exemplify the era perfectly. The set design is brilliant, allowing them to quickly transform the stage from a living room to a newsroom to Captain Horster's place. The lighting design by Michael Bush and sound design by Mike Banks serve to emphasize and elevate the emotional impact of each scene, particularly the final scenes.
The entire cast works together seamlessly to create a cohesive, meaningful, thought-provoking production. From Michael Bush's first entrance as Morten Kiil through the final scene of the show, in which the crowd threatens the Stockman family, Gamut's An Enemy of the People is a deeply intense show that makes the audience consider the interconnections between power, wealth, corruption, and morality.
The crowd, made up of Abby Carroll, Diego Sandino, James Mitchell, Patrick Hughes, Michele Hutchins, Angel Layton, Amber Legge, Ariadne Retzer, Scott Long, and Tesean Richardson, demonstrates the power of fear-namely the fear of upsetting the status quo. These actors bring great passion to the scene in which they turn against Doctor Stockmann. Patrick Hughes stands out in his spectacular performance as the drunk in this scene. Andrew Webb and Daniel Hutchins play Doctor Stockmann's sons Morten Stockmann and Ejlif Stockmann. They particularly shine in the second act when they return home from school ready to take on the world to defend their father. They use their facial expressions and body language to emphasize their character's fear, anger, frustration, and hopelessness.
Bush's Morten Kiil initially seems like a harmless, wacky old man. His final scene in the show is a surprise twist-Bush has the audience completely fooled and handles the revelation of his character's true nature beautifully. William Mueller, Lyeneal Griffin, and Michael James Kacey take the stage as newspapermen, Mr. Hovstad, Mr. Billing, and Mr. Aslaksen. Mueller and Griffin are delightful in their interactions with one another-they have astounding energy that serves to heighten the emotional tension in the show. Their varying reactions to Doctor Stockmann and Mayor Stockmann and their hesitancy to fully embrace the label of "liberal" are fascinating to watch-the audience begins the show believing that they are the champions of truth, only to find that they are just as likely to be swayed by fear and power as anyone else. Kacey's Aslaksen is a character whom audiences will love to hate. From his repetition of a belief in moderation above all else to his outburst at the end of the crowd scene, Kacey infuses Aslaksen with just the right amount of spinelessness in the face of the powerful.
Chris Ondeck takes on one of the most interesting characters in the show-Captain Horster. Captain Horster admits to trying to stay out of politics at the beginning of the show. In the end, however, he is one of the few willing to stand up for what he believes to be true, right, and moral. Ondeck's poise on stage is perfect for this role, and his calm demeanor highlights his character's conviction in the face of the dangerous crowd against which he stands with Doctor Stockmann.
Petra Stockmann (the doctor's daughter) and Catherine Stockmann (the doctor's wife) are beautifully played by Kalina Jenkins and Erin Shellenberger. Jenkins handles Petra's zeal for progressive ideals well-she is not afraid to stand up to the men around her who attempt to patronize her because of her age and gender. Her performance is inspiring to watch, as is Shellenberger's performance as Catherine Stockmann. Shellenberger displays a wonderful range of emotions. Her character really comes to life as the play progresses and Catherine realizes that she cannot just sit back and let things happen around her. The way Shellenberger plays Catherine's concern and protectiveness toward her family feels authentic.
Marc Lubbers and Clark Nicholson portray brothers Mayor Peter Stockmann and Doctor Thomas Stockmann. Both actors deliver show-stopping performances in their roles. Their interactions with one another are genuine and emotional-highlighting the tension of brother against brother. Both characters are complex and require a level of finesse to prevent them from becoming too over-the-top. Lubbers and Nicholson are definitely up to the task, delivering performances that keep the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats.
An Enemy of the People is thought-provoking and intense, and Gamut Theatre Group's production of this play is relevant, timely, and beautifully executed. For more information and to order tickets, visit www.gamuttheatre.org.