Review by Keith Potter, who saw the play without me!
Henrik Ibsen (Adapted by Florian Borchmeyer)
Translated by Maria Milisavljevic, Directed by Richard Rose
Tarragon Theatre’s staging of “An Enemy of the People” was based on a Berlin production, with a reduced cast and some audience participation.
Thomas Stockmann (Joe Cobden) is the medical officer for the medicinal baths in a town where the baths are the prime driver of the town’s prosperity. He orders a test of water coming into the baths which determines that the water is severely polluted and is harming people’s health. He reveals this, initially with the support of his father-in-law and major factory owner, Kiil, the press, Hovstad (Matthew Edison) and Billing (Brandon McGibbon), and ratepayers’ association leader, Aslaksen (Tom Barnett), and over the objections of his brother, Peter (Rick Roberts) who is the Mayor and Chair of the Baths corporation. At a town hall meeting, Stockmann makes an impassioned speech that shifts from concern about the water supply to a rant against politicians and capitalism. The town turns against him, he loses his job, his wife Katharina (Tamara Podemski), a teacher, also loses her job and they are abandoned by Kiil, who had bought control of the Baths on the assumption that his son-in-law would retract his statement giving Kiil a windfall profit. However, Thomas sticks with his principles, even though he is seen as an enemy of the people.
Tarragon’s production had a very strong cast and a dramatic, and flexible, set design (Michelle Tracey). The production was modern and forceful and, with current concerns about pollution and political “spin”, it was hard to remember this play was written in 1882.
A conceit of this production, which I believe came from the Berlin version last year, was that, for the town hall meeting, the lights went up and the audience became the townspeople (with, I think, several “plants” to get things going). The problem with this was that with a greying/lefty/academic/artistic audience the townspeople supported Thomas, which undercuts the pivotal moment when the town turns against Thomas.
At the end, Thomas and Katharina slump down against the wall, the epitome of despair, which surprised me – I thought the point was Thomas was defiantly standing by his principles, even though it made him “an enemy of the people”.
So, I have some problems with a couple of directorial decisions, whether they were Richard Rose’s or Florian Borchmeyer’s, but otherwise this is a strong production with excellent performances from all the cast, although Roberts and Cobden have the most opportunity to shine.