By ERIKA SASSEVILLE
In 1882 Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen—seething over receiving harsh criticism of his previous work, Ghosts —expressed his frustration with the political establishment through An Enemy of the People. Over 130 years later, this story of the individual versus the majority still rings true. Now playing at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, An Enemy of the People is centered around a small Norwegian town. Geologist Tom Stockmann (Billy Carter) discovers that the hot springs destined to get the town back on its feet are poisoned. Tom struggles against what he knows to be right, and what the rest of his friends and family think best.
Carter captures the indignant and determined Stockmann with sincere accuracy, earning a stamp of approval from my geologist companion. The rest of his family, wife Kate (Sarah Agnew), daughter Petra (Christian Bardin), and brother Peter (Ricardo Chavira, best known as Carlos Solis on “Desperate Housewives”) all have their roles to play in Tom’s conflict. Agnew portrays Kate as a strong 21st century woman, supportive and strong in equal measure. She and Petra are Tom’s center; they represent what he’s trying to protect, as well as what he stands to lose if the town turns on him. Bardin is completely relatable as a young woman struggling to find herself, even with parents who support her. Without knowing it, her efforts are a mirror of her father’s. Tom’s brother, Peter, approaches the scandal from a position at odds with Tom’s findings. Chavira is so charming that he creates gray areas in what appears to be a black-and-white issue.
I cannot stress enough how awed I was by the set and lighting design (Merle Hensel and Jane Cox). At once both utterly Scandinavian-simplistic and entirely modern and adaptable. I love a good turntable and Director Lyndsey Turner and the cast could not have used it more appropriately. The costume design by Brenda Abbandandolo and music/sound design by Broken Chord complete the world created by the design team.
The play has surfaced at different periods during the intervening years, most successfully during the 1950s by Arthur Miller in reaction to the Red Scare. Adapted by Brad Birch, this production does an astonishing job at taking a story from the 19th Century and finding its relevance in 2018. From the horrifying reality of the Flint water crisis to the alarming trend of valuing personal opinions over scientific facts, An Enemy of the People resonates with the audience so perfectly that you’d think the premise was brand new.