PICKSINSIX Review: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
"BETTER A LUNATIC THAN A COWARD."
Compelling new adaptation … Goodman Theatre’s Artistic Director Robert Falls has crafted, and directs, a compelling new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People based on a translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, a work that reflects the desperate and fractured time in which we live with such raw energy and emotion that it is hard at times to separate the superb dramatic styling from our everyday lives. All sides of our fractured national conversation are weaved within Falls' take on Ibsen's epic struggle of one man’s quest for truth at all costs.
Rightful purpose ... it is not always clear that the rightful purpose of bold, truthful action will justify the means to an end, particularly when that end may result in mass hysteria, conspiracy theories, financial ruin, and, ultimately, the collapse of our common understanding of liberty, freedom and democracy. There is also an insightful element of the flawed family dynamic between family members who each are competing for recognition, approval and self-interests. If this all sounds like the current social climate in America, imagine what Ibsen was feeling in 1882 when he wrote about a community in crisis and whose very existence depends on the healing nature of its luxury spa, which is now contaminated. To reasonable people, then and now, there is no choice when confronting the moral dilemma to cure a health crisis. Unfortunately, there are few reasonable people around so legislating an opposing position becomes surprisingly easy and pretty much guarantees that this may not end well.
At the heart of the story … Dr. Tom Stockmann (Philip Earl Johnson) has confirmed his theory that a local tannery along with others have polluted the pristine waters with harmful toxins. The public dissemination of his findings are at the heart of the story. Running up against stiff opposition, he decides his best option is to hold a public hearing and let the people decide. To the community, firmly under the autocratic rule of his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann (Scott Jacek), exposing the truth becomes a weapon. As a wave of personal and professional retaliation mounts, all unite in a lock-step revolt, fueled by deception, greed and stupidity. Lots of stupidity, according to Tom.
A powerhouse cast ... the superb Philip Earl Johnson leads a powerhouse cast, his delirious and impassioned frustration finally boiling over in rage as he wrestles the frenzied mob poised against him. But it is the razer-sharp, searingly-electric confrontations that have him under siege and at odds with his evil brother, a commanding performance by Scott Jacek, that delivers the explosive conflict between truth and deception. As a collaborative voice – a sort of Greek chorus – the characters of Billing (Jesse Bhamrah), Hovstad (Aubrey Deeker Hernandez) and Aslaksen (Allen Gilmore) descend rapidly from the moral high ground to frame the populus point of view. Only Tom's wife Katherine (sensitively played by Lanise Antione Shelley) and his ardent daughter Petra (a fine turn for Rebecca Hurd) consistently bring compassion to Stockmann's plight. The accomplished talents of David Darlow (Morton Kiil) and Larry Neumann, Jr. (The Drunk) add depth in featured roles.
Artistic impressions ... the extraordinary artistic impressions of costume designer Ana Kuzmanic’s are on full display in the two-story renderings that complement Todd Rosenthal’s industrial cantalever truss design - with lighting by Robert Wierzel - that frames the Stockmann home, the print shop and the public meeting space, which is mysteriously populated and an altogether visually stunning tableau.
The takeaway ... reflecting the embittered discourse of our times, Falls has crafted a magnificent and explosive oratory that is ripe with political commentary, a consistent theme for the Goodman this season. Here brother faces brother, in the shadow of moral decay, where the bully pulpit rules the day against all adversity. There is a powerful score to settle in this startlingly familiar story examining the courage of our convictions, the devastating consequences of our actions, and, whether or not, it is better to be a lunatic than a coward.
AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Adapted and Directed by Robert Falls
Based on a translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling
through April 15th