1882 play mirrors today

Steve Treacy, Contributor
Posted 4/11/17

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” President Donald J. Trump, tweet, Feb. 17 2017

It may seem like …

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1882 play mirrors today


“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” President Donald J. Trump, tweet, Feb. 17 2017

It may seem like 134 years ago since the bizarre twists and turns of our country’s 2016 power struggle. Those were heady, discombobulating times. The people gave rise to a truth-spouting Democratic socialist, only to watch him handicapped at the starting gate, then gelded into television’s favorite voice in the wilderness. We certainly remember a more moderate Democrat who was a highly skilled breaker of glass ceilings. And how can we forget that blue-collar billionaire and undisputed master of free media coverage?

Norwegian Henrik Ibsen’s play “An Enemy of the People” – which is playing on the Key City Public Theatre stage this month – takes place in 1882, when it was more acceptable in polite circles to maximize profits at the expense of public health. Ibsen sets the stage for our own 2016 candidate prototypes, all “roled” into one Brady Bunch. While other parallels probably exist in Ibsen’s play, his lead character, one Dr. Thomas Stockmann, might as well have been modeled after Sen. Sanders. His ambivalent teammate, Katherine Stockmann, brings Secretary Clinton to mind. His anti-environmental entrepreneur (Peter Stockmann) has spooky similarities to President Trump and his peculiarly monstrous choice for administrator of our Environmental Protection Agency.

“I am still uncertain as to whether I should call it a comedy or a straight drama. It may [have] many traits of comedy, but it is also based on a serious idea.” (Ibsen, letter to publisher, 1882) Ibsen is still considered “the father of realism” in world theater. The classic “jobs versus environment” mantra chanted here was soon intoned by Anton Chekhov in “The Cherry Orchard” (1904).

Key City Public Theatre’s artistic director (Denise Winter) and show sponsor (D.D. Wigley) deserve hero medals for presenting a political play at a time when the good people of Flint, Michigan, are still sipping lead in their town’s water and “half” our republic seems more than willing to poison the other “half.”

If there is a moral to this story, it might read: “Economics and politics, society and culture cannot be dominated by thinking only of the short-term and immediate financial or electoral gains. Instead, they urgently need to be redirected to the common good, which includes sustainability and care for creation.” (Pope Francis, Sept. 1, 2016)

Perhaps Ibsen’s protagonist puts it best: “The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”


If you are sick by now of partisan politics, there is still plenty to like in Key City’s production. The director (Connor Zaft) lets the firehose unreel without becoming arbitrarily snippy. Due to his excellent casting, his ensemble actors show no weak rungs. With only a minimum amount of wandering about in Act I, his stage pictures, with solid lighting (lighting design by Albert Mendez), hold our focus on the playwright’s characters and key concepts. The set (scenic design by Terry Tennesen) is spare and evocative. A period settee primly borders a vortex of blue hypnotic circles resembling a rug. A bold yet crumbling brick facade may signify something. The introductory cello music (sound design by Noah Morningstar) is very pleasant. Modern-day dress (costume design by Connor Zaft) looks appropriate for this cross-century retelling.

Philosophical differences among the Stockmann family couldn’t be more distinct. Thomas Stockmann (John Clark), the central character, pulls us in with intelligence and vulnerability before dragging us up and down on his politically correct roller coaster. Peter Stockmann (Hewitt Brooks) admirably performs the task of convincing us townsfolk we do indeed need his grand tourist spa, regardless of its provably fatal side effects. We feel keenly for Katherine Stockmann (Michelle Hensel), who finds herself trapped between her children’s security and her husband’s moral certitude.

Aside from Morten Kiil (Lawrason Driscoll), who comes on like a Breitbart bull and stays that way, as well as Captain Horster (Ron Graham), who is always likable enough to be elected governor of Ohio, the remaining team members are mutable from beginning to end. Feel free to assign these switch hitters to your own 2006 roster of political and media personalities.

Hovstad (Crystal Eisele) enters as a darling gender-bending editor.

Aslaksen (Sam Cavallaro) soon rashly defends “moderation in all things.”

Petra (Rosaletta Curry) is a Chelsea girl who sides with her parents as needed.

Billing (Mark Valentine) is like your basic chameleon-like curmudgeon.

Morten and Ejlif Stockman (Jack and Sam Slater) are rookie “bash brothers.”

On balance, I give this Key City production of “An Enemy of the People” five community stars.

“An Enemy of the People” plays Thursday through Sunday, April 13-23 at Key City Public Theatre. Visit keycitypublictheatre.org.

Port Townsend’s Steve Treacy is a Northwest playwright, screenwriter, professional actor and member of American Theatre Critics Association.


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