Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
An Enemy of the People
Unlike Olney's production of Hedda Gabler, which was reserved and comparatively bloodless, this intelligent, passionate version of Ibsen's 1882 play bursts with immediacy and offers a surprising contemporary relevance. Director Jim Petosa uses the intimacy of the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab to break the fourth wall between stage and seats, even incorporating the audience into a crowd scene.
The play examines issues of personal, family and social responsibility in a small seaside town in southern Norway. The town recently constructed a health spa where guests can "take the waters," but Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Christopher Lane), the staff physician, has discovered a problem: the waters at the spa are polluted and, in fact, will actually make people sicker. Luckily, he thinks, he has found the problem early enough that the town can make changes at the spa and avoid likely disaster.
Matters are never that simple, of course. The town's mayor (James Slaughter), who is also Dr. Stockmann's older brother, worries about the added costs of the repairs and the damage to the town's reputation. Hovstad (Jeffries Thaiss), the crusading newspaper editor, supports Dr. Stockmann, but for reasons of his own. And, by taking a stand, the doctor risks the welfare of his own family: wife Katherine (Julie-Ann Elliott); adult daughter Petra (Lindsey Haynes); and young sons Ejlif (Sean McCoy) and Morten (Bradley Bowers).
While Dr. Stockmann is a heroic character, he is also rather self-absorbed and oblivious to those around him, as when he offers a glass of sherry to a man who has just stated his support of the temperance movement. The issue that ultimately drives him to action is the tyranny of the majority, and questioning the need for caution so as not to stir up undue opposition an issue still at the center of political debate.
Lane's performance here is subtler than his boisterous turn in Hedda Gabler, but just as effective, and ultimately more powerful. Elliott is actually better suited to the resolute Katherine than she was to the mercurial, dangerous Hedda, and Thaiss conveys the spark and anger here that he lacked in the other production.
Other standouts in the cast are Slaughter, a politician as smooth and slick as Lane is blunt and outspoken; Tim Getman as a man who, having gained a small amount of power, relishes the opportunity to wield it; and Kip Pierson as an ambitious young man looking for his best chance.
Unlike his realistic setting of Hedda Gabler, James Kronzer has created a less literal set within the same walls. (Specifically, four tall doors open into the central space, and characters seem to enter them at random.) Daniel MacLean Wagner's lighting design and Jarett Pisani's sound design add to the expressionistic feeling of the production, while Howard Vincent Kurtz's costumes anchor the characters in their own era.
Olney Theatre Center