When famed Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote his 1882 play, he was inspired by the negative reactions to his earlier production of “Ghosts,” in which he openly explored adultery and syphilis and was labeled degenerate and immoral. Not one to easily accept others’ unfavorable opinions, Ibsen’s creative brain began to weave a tale about an honest, open man who was similarly labeled scandalous and immoral – and so ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE was born. From this intriguing story, Ellen Geer freely adapted the moral dilemma presented – but placed the account in South Carolina. To further add to the problems faced by the more contemporary characters, Ellen Geer added issues of race in the American South in 1980 – and even threw in a Ku Klux Klan meeting of the time.
Dr. Stockman (Christopher W. Jones) is the physician in charge of South Fork’s famous spa, originally his own idea, which eventually offered him a comfortable and accepted place in the small town’s society. Dr. Stockman has had some rough spots because of his marriage to Katherine (Earnestine Phillips), an African American woman and unpopular choice in the South of his time, where mixed marriages were a no-no. In fact, he fled his hometown for years before finally returning with his family.
But now he has a solid professional appointment with excellent economic perks thanks to his sister Mildred (Katherine Griffith), who also happens to be the mayor of the town. Everything seems to be perfect – and then dark clouds gather on the horizon when a routine laboratory test determines that the spa water is contaminated and dangerous.
Because he found out in time before any serious consequences – and because now the town can correct the problem causing the contamination – Stockman is certain that his news will be welcomed. The good but naïve doctor couldn’t be more wrong. The spa has become the town’s economic savior and source of fame and fortune. When the folks who live there find out that the spa would cost millions to fix and have to be closed for two years, they do a rapid turnaround in their opinion about Dr. Stockman’s findings. As the pressure mounts for Stockman to sit on his unwelcome information, loyalties begin to shift; and views and attitudes take a decided turn away from the carrier of bad tidings.
Still, no matter what the adversity, Stockman feels that he must stick to his guns; his faithful wife and family are almost his only supporters. But then his father-in-law issues an ultimatum which could have catastrophic results for the entire Stockman family. Truly, Dr. Stockman has become AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. How will all this work out? You’ll have to see Ellen Geer’s adaptation of Ibsen’s play to find out. By the way, I’m sure that Ibsen would have approved of the original play’s changes, which bring some contemporary and contentious issues to the fore.
ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE runs through September 28, 2019 with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday August 16 only, at 8 p.m. on Saturdays (6/22, 6/29, 7/6, 8/10, 9/14 and at 4 p.m. on 9/28), and at 8 p.m. on Sundays (7/14, 7/21, 7/28 8/4, 8/25, 9/22) and at 4 p.m. on 9/8 (no performances July 12-14). Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Tickets range from $26 to $26 (students, military veterans, teachers, AEA members $25 and $15 and children 5-15 $10). The Friday night 8/16 performance is pay-what-you-will. For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online.