Although the play was penned first penned in 1882, themes in Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” resonate in national politics today – notably the realities of speaking truth to power, according to the theater company bringing the production to Modesto.
Prospect Theater Project brings the Arthur Miller adaption of Ibsen’s anti-Victorianism play to its downtown Modesto stage Nov. 17 through Dec. 3.
Miller decided to adapt the Ibsen piece in 1950, when the term “McCarthyism” first reared its head. “Ibsen’s play about a man desperate to tell the truth despite the efforts of authority to silence him bore direct, inescapable parallels to the witch hunt that was McCarthyism, a hunt with little-to-no regard for truth; a regime with a terrifying ability to spin fear and doubt,” according to a press release from Prospect.
Today, “An Enemy of the People” is “more current than ever,” according to the release, with truth-telling, the responsibility of media and the ability of power and money to kill anything it opposes playing out nationally in a range of arenas including politics, the corporate world, professional athletics and Hollywood.
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The play follows the complex issues facing Dr. Thomas Stockmann, who comes to suspect there are toxins in the water supply for a new health spa in his small Norwegian town – a major income source for the community that he had advocated. When tests confirm his suspicions, he contacts the newspaper and his brother, the town’s mayor, Peter Stockmann, to warn of the findings.
But the mayor has his own agenda: “prosperity, power and appearances are worth more to him than truth and public health,” according to the press release. Admitting the spa is poisonous would be admitting that authority “can be imperfect and vulnerable, and Peter Stockmann does not believe in such vulnerability.”
As the brothers’ personal conflict begins to impact the entire town, Thomas Stockmann faces a series of internal dilemmas, including how willing he is to stand up against the resistance to his revelation. What cost will come from speaking truth to power – for himself and for his family?
Michael Hewitt, who directs the play for Prospect, noted in press materials that Miller’s preface to his play states that one of his reasons for adapting it was to “demonstrate that Ibsen is really pertinent today.”
“And though this was his statement some 65-plus years ago, it’s clear that Ibsen’s play and Miller’s adaptation are more than relevant today,” Hewitt said, “with its themes touching on subjects such as environmental responsibility vs. economic development, professional ethics, flexible moral standards, hypocrisy and Machiavellianism.”
Prospect veteran David Hambley stars as Thomas Stockmann in the production, with company newcomer Stephen Mouillesseaux playing Peter Stockmann.
Others in the cast include Tom Solomon, Mary Pieczarka, Gary Thomas, David Ackerman and Eric Watkins, also all veterans of Prospect productions. Also making their Prospect debuts are Kenzie Harmon, Kyle Holman, JD Jeans and Ike Zagone.
“An Enemy of the People” is the second play in Prospect’s 2017-18 season. Next up will be “Beer for Breakfast,” presented in January.
“An Enemy of the People”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays with one 8 p.m. Thursday performance on Nov. 30.
WHERE: Prospect Theater Project, 1214 K St., Modesto
TICKETS: $20, $10 students