In 1882, Henrik Ibsen wrote an angry tirade called An Enemy of the People about how the world is motivated by greed. The main character, Dr. Stockmann, discovers that the spa town’s main source of income is causing serious health problems for the people who visit. He has the support of the townspeople until they discover how much money it will cost and how much revenue the town will lose while the problem is corrected.
This, of course, bears no resemblance to Ibsen’s own predicament in 1882 while experiencing public backlash to his last play, a social critique about health and syphilis titled Ghosts. In An Enemy of the People Dr. Stockmann is portrayed as an altruistic man with only peoples’ health in mind, as Ibsen believed himself to be. What a coincidence.
Ibsen’s self-aggrandizement aside, the Pear Theatre’s production of An Enemy of the People is not very good. I hate to say it, but this is a show to skip. The few good performances do not make up for the overall lack-luster production and grumpy tone of Ibsen’s original work. It’s more enjoyable to stay home and catch up on real political events for two hours than sit through this show.
The show’s heart is in the right place, however. By talking about how storytelling is part of what makes us human, Director Elizabeth Kruse Craig moved me more in a short speech before the show than the actors did in the next two hours. The Pear is trying to take Ibsen’s work and relate it to the current political climate and to examine the importance and the cost of whistleblowing. It’s a noble effort and the connections between the show and now are undeniable (Dr. Stockmann suffers greatly from the mayor’s “alternative facts” for example). However, it’s not as direct a match as the theater seems to think, especially since much of the second act argues that most people are morally bankrupt. Furthermore, the main character is so self-assured and bullishly insistent about his convictions that he’s no longer relatable to the audience.
On the bright side, there are three really good performances in the show. Ron Talbot as the lead, Dr. Stockmann, and Hannah Mary Keller playing his daughter, Petra, both give solid interpretations of their characters that makes them feel alive as in 2017 as they did in 1882. However, the surprising star of the show is John Musgrave who plays the doctor’s father-in-law, Morten Kiil. His comedic yet grounding presence is the highlight of the show. Scenes that are pedantic turn positively exciting when he steps on stage. The three moments where he impacted the plot are by far the most interesting in the show.
It’s a delight to see him, especially in comparison to many of the less-seasoned actors giving positively wooden performances. Matt Brown, who plays the fickle journalist Mr. Billing, looks like he’s reading the script off the back of his eyeballs. Mohana Rajagopal, playing Catherine Stockmann, the doctor’s wife, seems sweet, but never expresses real emotions about the events of the play. Instead she floats through the show making declarative statements she never actually seems to mean.
So despite some good actors giving good performances, the show is not as poignant or moving as the theater company seems to think. Overall, the show falls flat. I’d recommend staying home and catching up on some TV instead.
An Enemy of the People runs Thursdays through Sundays until November 12, 2017. The Pear Theatre is at 1110 La Avenida Street, Mountain View. The show is about two hours long and tickets range from $15-$35.
Photos courtesy of the Pear Theatre