“The Times They Are A Changing”, sing the media troubadours in the Cameri Theatre’s clever, provocative, and entertaining production of An Enemy of the Public, a modern adaptation inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Many changes have been made to Ibsen’s classic, yet it seems like the more things change the more they stay the same – the essence is retained in the tension between the desire for truth and justice and the instinct for self-advancement and self-preservation, as well as the power of the media, and the gullibility of the public.
The central issue and main figures are very close to Ibsen’s original play, yet this is much more than an updated version. Set in a present-day small town, the plot revolves around a luxurious spa built around a local water source, that is expected to bring an influx of tourists and income, a greatly needed boost to local business. However, Thomas Stockmann (Dan Shapira), the spa’s doctor, has been testing the waters and come up with news that may rock the boat for his brother and Mayor Peter Stockmann (Eran Mor), who has been promoting the spa. So far, other than dates and chemicals, very true to the original. Yet the play’s structure has been substantially altered with music, video, and several interactive talk interludes, all contributing to the fun, challenging, and lively pace of the play.
Music is an integral part of the play on several levels. It provides a backstory for the ties between Thomas and the iTem website editor Huvstadt (David Bilenca) and assistant editor Billy (Gil Cohen). Referencing a friendship forged in school, when they all were in a band together. When Thomas plays the keyboards, or Huvstadt picks up a guitar, there is something nostalgic, evoking the sense of relationships strained by the challenges of growing up and dealing with the responsibilities and complexities entailed. This contributes an additional layer to Ibsen’s themes, questioning whether maturity inevitably involves letting go of youthful dreams and ideals. In a play that deals in difficult realities, the songs temper and soften the harshness. The music recalls not only the individual’s past, lost innocence and ideals, but the optimistic idealism of activist and political movements. The original songs are lovely, and the familiar ones, such as the Dylan mentioned above and Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire, evoke a world of associations. Music is a way of bringing people together.
In what, in light of recent political changes, is a startling throw-back, the play opens on a video of former President Barack Obama’s speech made in Germany last April: “We are fortunate to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous, most progressive era in human history.” The clip is followed by a vigorous presentation by Katherine Stockmann (Meyrav Feldman), situating the moment in a university classroom, with the audience becoming the de facto student body, listening to a fairly convincing paen on the wonders of capitalism. Feldman is very convincing in this role, presenting a well-rounded character – confident lecturer at the university, fond and concerned wife and mother at home. These lecture interludes provide a commentary on the plot as it develops, offering food for thought, as well as involving the audience. At one point, Feldman turned to one of the ‘students’ asking: “Why aren’t you writing this down?”
This production presents the audience with a younger Thomas, father to a first-born infant, who is perhaps just beginning to adjust to his new responsibilities. Dan Shapira brings an endearing youthful spirit to his portrayal of Thomas, conveying the nuances of his dedication to the truth and enthusiastic idealism are tempered with a measure of naivete and vanity. Thomas and Katherine are presented as an upwardly mobile young couple, with Katherine torn between her loyalty to her husband, a belief in the truth, and her desire to keep them on the track to a good life, defined by professional and financial success.
The tension between the two brothers is very well portrayed, as are the fluctuating and divided loyalties of Huvstadt and Billy. The entire cast does an excellent job of expressing different perspectives on the issues, and the subjective quality of one’s relationship to facts. Even Peter Stockmann, who is, let’s admit, set up by the text as a bad guy, is given a very human aspect by Eran Mor. One can even, if only for a moment, see the situation from his perspective. Yet another angle on the conundrum is provided by Morten (Shalom Korem), Katherine’s father, who represents the old guard, recently kicked to the curb and eager for a comeback, to get things done the old-fashioned way.
It all comes to a head in one of my favorite scenes, the town meeting, when the house lights are turned on, and the entire audience becomes part of the show. Huvstadt has the mic, and in contemporary talk-show style leads a ‘balanced’ presentation that is heavily slanted, but gives audience members a chance to express their own opinions – which they do!
An Enemy of the Public
Based on Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People
Translated and Adapted by Dan Shapira and Yonatan Esterkin; Directed by Yonatan Esterkin; Set and costumes: Aya Bakh; Video Art: Corin Bellmore Swissa; Arrangements, music production, original music: Roi Noifeld; Lighting: Uri Rubinstein; Producer and assistant director: Asaf Fridman; Production assistant: Yotam Schusseim; Cast: Thomas Stockmann – Dan Shapira, Katherine Stockmann – Meyrav Feldman, Peter Stockmann – Eran Mor, Hovstad – David Bilenca, Billy – Gil Cohen, Morten – Shalom Korem.