Know thine “enemy”

Ibsen classic ignites Caplin Theater stage

Sometimes, it’s not just about what you see, but also what you hear. Frenzied voices in heated argument, chaotic chants, screeching rockets, The Beach Boys and the bone-chilling echo of a single gunshot took the stage during the University production of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People.” This alluring but unconventional soundtrack took the place of the Gershwin melodies of Drama Department shows past, consistently keeping audience members on the edge of their seats.

Beyond its auditory experience “Enemy” is an impressive culmination of both dramatic and comedic features, which together help craft a powerful storyline that won’t easily be forgotten.

The play, adapted for the University’s Ruth Caplin Theater by Assoc. Drama Prof. L. Douglas Grissom, tells the story of Dr. Thomas Stockman (played by Arts & Sciences graduate student Mitch Voss), a small-town doctor who discovers the natural springs in his Maine community are contaminated. Determined to broadcast his discovery to save the citizens of his town, Stockman defies the commands of his brother, who is also the town mayor, and turns to the local newspaper, “The People’s Messenger,” for support. Inevitably, numerous conflicts arise.

The play reaches its climax when Stockman takes his case public, bravely revealing the contamination to the community, which in turn disregards his research by labeling it a means to become independently wealthy. Soon, Stockman is left with only the devotion of his harried, albeit reasonable wife, Catherine (Arts & Sciences graduate student Amaree Cluff), and his ambitious daughter, Petra (fourth-year College student Anne Donnelly). Ultimately, he discovers the most powerful man — a man like himself — is one who has nothing left to lose. And the stage goes dark.

The performance’s comedic attributes are subtle — and are made all the more humorous for it. The two young Stockman boys, for example, are a constant presence in the play, instigating the numerous rocket launches and other discernable offstage ruckus, though they never take the stage themselves. Instead, the audience is left to imagine the boys’ physical characteristics while the Stockman parents shout threats — and sometimes encouragement — to the troublemakers outside the front door.

Similarly, the second-act ramblings of Drunken Citizen (third-year College student Ian Lindsay), who is placed in the audience, add a new layer to the show and leaves theatergoers howling with laughter. Though just a small role, this character brings a crucial perspective to the performance, causing the majority of the townspeople to rally behind him in rejection of Stockman’s claims.

Lindsay’s role is just one example of the talent found throughout the production’s stellar cast. The show’s larger roles, such as those of Ms. Hovstad (Arts & Sciences graduate student Sandi Carroll), editor of “The People’s Messenger,” and her assistant, Ms. Billings (fourth-year College student Kate Tooley), are also handled adeptly. These women challenge, manipulate and flatter Dr. Stockman throughout the performance in order to defy the female stereotype of the 1960s and to keep their newspaper from floating belly-up.

A roller coaster ride of emotions, loyalty and trust, “An Enemy of the People” is a play that will cause you to question your own values and beliefs, putting into question what exactly is worth fighting for in this life. The play runs through Nov. 23.

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