Enemy of the People

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater

Leave it to Ellen Geer, Artistic Director and Doyen of Theatricum Botanicum, to succeed in making Ibsen’s explosive Capitalist Conundrum relevant to our own day and time. Under her direction, it is clear that only the players have changed in almost 150 years since the play was written in the 1880s.

The prologue sets the tone.  It’s a little startling to see robed members of the Ku Klux Klan at a meeting chaired by David Duke (Conner Clark Pascale) in 1972.  But we soon learn that they target a bi-racial couple. When the play finally begins, we find out that Dr. Stockman (Christopher W. Jones) and his wife, Katherine (Earnestine Phillips), were the ones who were run out of the little town of South Fork because of their marriage. Stockman has retained friendships across both sectors of the town, however. He unites with Horatio (Max Lawrence), editor of the “Black” newspaper, while Mildred (Katherin Griffith), the town’s mayor, is none other than his own sister.

Stockman is confident that his project, a hot springs spa, will bring business to the town and accolades for himself.  But difficulties arise when he learns that the springs are contaminated, in part by the pig farm owned by his father-in-law, Cornel (Gerald River). When he warns everyone, he is surprised by their protectionist reactions.  Ibsen twists the knot even tighter when all, even Stockman’s family, turns against him and he is declared “enemy of the people.”

Echoes of our own times abound in Geer’s update.  In large part, she has retained the stately translation of Ibsen’s text, and, with Melora Marshall’s help, she has directed in a more formal style, distancing the action just enough. Even with those restrictions, though, the performers recreate the town’s inhabitants to chilling effect.  From the repugnant KKK meeting at the beginning to the final denouement, the play elicits a visceral effect. To paraphrase Trump’s “There are fine people on both sides” --- here, there are culpable people on both sides.

As always, furniture props culled by Sydney Russell from the Theatricum repertoire and superb costuming by Beth Eslick bring the period to life, while sound (Valeriya Nedviga) and lighting (Zachery Moore) further the ambiance.

Theatricum Botanicum performs Enemy of the People in rotation during its summer season, mixing Shakespearean plays and classics (Skin of our Teeth) and Revivals (Moby Dick) through September 29th, 2019 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga 90290. Tickets range from $10.00 for children to $42.00.  For exact schedule and ticket information phone (310) 455-3723 or online, www.theatricum.com.