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Transcript: Connie Meng Review aired Monday, September 24, 2001

An Enemy of the People

Main Stage, National Arts Centre, Ottawa. Thursday, September 20 through Saturday, October 6, 2001.

Ibsen's AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, in this new adaptation by Canadian playwright David Young, is as timely today as it was in 1882 when it was written. To quote Mr. Young, "This play could have been written last week.… The long-term consequences of environmental issues tend to go right by our elected officials and corporate elite. Short term thinking and the profit motive prevail."

Ibsen is thought of as the father of modern drama largely because of his break with tradition in beginning to write realistic drama. His later plays all deal with the basic human failure to see ourselves clearly, and with various kinds of hypocrisy. In the case of AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, he's dealing not only with environmental pollution, but also with the pollution of the human spirit. To paraphrase Mr. Young, the great thing about this play is that Ibsen sees human folly on all sides of the argument. Ibsen's characters are not meant to be archetypes, but realistic human beings caught up in a moral dilemma.

Using the full thrust, the set designed by Sue LePage works fairly well, managing to suggest several different locations. There's perhaps a bit too much realism in the set dressing, which demands a great deal of dashing about during the set changes. John Pennoyer's costumes are generally extremely good and in period, with one major lapse - Katherine's coat. However, I admired the authenticity and cut of the rest of the clothes.

As for the actors, the accomplished Peter Froehlich does his usual excellent job as Aslaksen, the leader of the solid, (or should I say stolid?), majority. Victor Ertmanis makes a very good Captain Horster. There are some wonderful subtleties in his performance, especially in his relationship to Petra, well played by Jennifer Roberts-Smith.

Terri Cherniak as Katherine and Darren Hynes as Billing do a nice job together in setting the opening scene. Orest Kinasewich is both fierce and touching as Morton Kiil. However, Steve Pirot as Hovstad, the editor, seems to be not quite up to either the style or the language, and gives a rather one-dimensional performance.

John Wright is an effective Mayor Stockman. His pomposity is unrelenting, and his line, "As my employee you are not entitled to an opinion," is really jarring. I liked Tom Rooney as the crusading Dr. Stockman. He has the single-minded energy that drives toward the truth regardless of the consequences. His Act II speech is truly gripping.

I mustn't leave the cast without mentioning David Coomber and Matthew Xhignesse as the two Stockman sons. They're both very likable, very good on stage, and play well together.

One small caveat—there must be another way to do the townsfolk. The obviously recorded voices and murmuring are very distracting. Aside from that, Artistic Director Marti Maraden has done a nice job of putting the production together.

All during the performance I kept scribbling down lines. "Capitalism is all about timing." "If they don't want to hear you, they won't." "The truth is no insult." "An ugly phrase can pierce the heart like a needle." "The majority is never right." In other words, this is a powerful play with a lot to say to our time.

On a scale of one to five, the National Arts Centre English Theatre production of AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE gets four and one-fourth Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.


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