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“An Enemy of the People”

Yale Repertory Theatre

 

Yale Repertory Theatre is currently presenting an impressive production of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People.”  Using a new translation by Paul Walsh, director James Bundy has staged this show with a contemporary angle: although the play takes place in Norway in the 1880s, as the audience is being seated, one can see stagehands sweeping the stage and cast members, in full costume, walking in the aisles of the theatre.  This double-vision, if you will, shows both Norway 135 years ago and the current time of 2017.

While this combination of then and now, at times, doesn’t completely work, more often than not, Ibsen’s powerful and volatile play evokes, pointedly, the political state of today.  With an outstanding performance by Reg Rogers in the title role, Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of “An Enemy of the People” is a show that can certainly get under your skin.

The plot of “An Enemy of the People” is basically straightforward: Doctor Thomas Stockmann (played by Reg Rogers), through scientific testing, discovers that the water in the baths in the town, which serve as resorts, is actually poisoned.  And while Doctor Stockmann is certain that his discovery will save the town and be corrected, the rest of the townspeople, including most especially Stockmann’s brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann, slowly and methodically begin to twist Doctor Stockmann’s words against him, to devastating effect.

Still, I would be loath to give much more of the story away, since watching “An Enemy of the People” is such an insidious and surprising theatrical experience.  Suffice it is to say, however, that the cast is uniformly strong and they certainly deliver Ibsen’s message powerfully.  As mentioned, Reg Rogers, as Doctor Stockmann, is superb throughout, especially in a lengthy speech at the beginning of the second act.  Indeed, at the performance I attended, there was spontaneous applause during Rogers’ speech.

The members of Doctor Stockmann’s immediate family are equally fine.  As Stockmann’s wife Catherine, Joey Parsons proves to be tower of strength, as does his daughter Petra (a striking Stephanie Machado).  Both actresses are excellent and Atticus Burrello and James Jisoo Maroney also do well as Doctor Stockmann’s school-age sons.  As one of the doctor’s allies, Captain Horster, Setareki Wainiqolo delivers a solid performance.

Working at the newspaper that initially wants to publish the doctor’s findings, Ben Anderson is very good as the character of Billing, as is Bobby Roman, as Hovstad, who is able to convey all the complexities of his character.  Indeed, it is almost chilling to watch Anderson and Roman gradually shift their positions from liberals to those of the faceless majority. In the same vein, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson is terrific as Aslaksen, whose catchword of “moderation” seeps through the play.

And then there is Enrico Colantoni as Mayor Peter Stockmann.  As the villain, if you will, of the show, Colantoni’s portrayal is full of subtle shadings, and it is to the actor’s credit that he manages to keep his character from becoming completely unsympathetic.  What one sees is a man who, bit by bit, carefully chips at his brother’s attempt to save the town and twists the doctor’s intentions to the point where Doctor Stockmann is ultimately considered “an enemy of the people.”

Of course, considering the current political climate, “An Enemy of the People” strikes quite a chord in its portrait of moral undermining and it is impossible not to find similarities in what Henrik Ibsen wrote 135 years ago to what is occurring now in 2017.  Director James Bundy certainly packs a punch with this show and works wonderfully well with his scenic designer Emona Stoykova, whose set is both naturalistic and wildly theatrical, as one is always able to clearly see stagehands standing in the wings of the theatre.

Similarly, Sophia Choi’s costume design is just about perfect and the lighting design by Krista Smith is incisive.  “An Enemy of the People” at Yale Repertory Theatre is quite a timely and frightening piece of theatre, though, in this translation by Paul Walsh, there is some small degree of hope onstage, as well, which is perhaps just what theatergoers need right about now.

“An Enemy of the People” continues performances at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT through October 28, 2017.  For tickets, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.

Photo: (L-R): Enrico Colantoni and Reg Rogers

Photo by Joan Marcus

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