REVIEW: Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ at Limelight Theatre explores fake news and mob mentality, with plenty of dramatic suspense

By Renee Unsworth

The ongoing battle between good and evil continues in An Enemy of the People,on stage at Limelight Theatre through February 3. Although Henrik Ibsen wrote ‘Enemy’ 137 years ago, this modern adaptation by Arthur Miller is still completely relevant in 2019.

Sponsored by The Stetson Kennedy Foundation, the play tackles many timeless subjects: Scandal, fake news, mob mentality, bullying, scientific evidence, and the unpredictable nature of humans.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann — the protagonist of this 1882 drama — has done research that confirms the water in the public springs is toxic, due to pollution from the town’s mills. But those springs are what bring tourism dollars to his small Norwegian town, and his brother Peter Stockmann (mayor and springs board president) will do whatever it takes to make sure his brother’s findings don’t get published — with threats issued to the local newspaper, business owners, and taxpayers. A controversy ensues and the doctor stands firm to expose the facts.

Mirroring the storyline, water issues continue in our modern day world, with Flint, Michigan still on our minds.

In fact, director Mike Beaman makes sure that audience members are reminded of current events, with sound bites from American TV news stations that play throughout the production during scene changes.

“We used clips from CBS, ABC, and BBC from coverage of Flint,” Director Mike Beaman explained. “We also used Hilary Clinton and Trump vocals, with reference to Obama.”

Limelight audiences may remember Beaman as the Emcee in Cabaret. He also directed Fool for Love and Hedda Gabler on Limelight stages. For those who are familiar with plays directed by Beaman, you will recognize his vision on the set design. This one has classic gray tones on wooden chairs and large picture frames that create the walls and the ceiling of what become the Stockmann home, newspaper office, and meeting spaces. 

Actor Sebastian Conte makes his debut at Limelight (as Dr. Thomas Stockmann) and aspiring actor Trey Stripling (as Peter Stockmann) are both convincing in their roles as sibling rivalry leads into a much nastier feud.

Actress Heather Eggleston as Catherine Stockmann (Dr. Stockman’s wife) creates a sweet, smart, and strong female. Eggleston may be remembered from her role as Thea Elvsted in Hedda Gabler.

Another strong female actress is Mary Schubert as Petra, the daughter of Dr. Stockmann, who speaks her mind many times throughout the story, in support of her father’s findings that the healing springs are poisoned. 

And then there’s terrific veteran actor Lou Agresta, playing Morten Kiil, the father of Catherine Stockmann, and owner of several of the tanneries that Dr. Stockmann implicates in his water pollution report. Limelight audiences may remember Agresta in A Facility for Living, The Boys Next Door, and The Rainmaker

The serious nature of the play is lightened each time young actors Mac Jones (playing Morten Stockmann) and Elijah D’Elena (Ejlif Stockmann), both Dr. Stockmann’s sons, run onto stage. Their playfulness reminds the audience of the innocence of childhood.  The two local students have been seen on the Limelight stage in many productions staged by KidzfACTory, the Education arm of the theatre.

Comic relief comes from actor Bob Mandzi, (playing Aslasken,  the newspaper’s printer). Audience members laughed out loud each time Mandzi delivered a line or two. Aslasken is also the chairman of the homeowners association, has influence with the Temperance Society, and is a lover of moderation. All of these societal roles create quite the character, and Mandzi does a great job with this quirky role.

Kyle Reeves debuts at Limelight (playing Hovstad, the newspaper editor and political radical). along with James Fellows (as Billing, another newspaper writer/journalist). Both actors do a fine job with their roles. Limelight audiences may remember Fellows as Elder Jay in The Christians.

Brad Cooper (Captain Horster) looks just like a boat Capt. should and plays the role convincingly. Audiences may have seen him on stage at Players by the Sea and Alhambra Theatre & Dining.

Hat’s off the the “mob” of actors, Elaine Sullivan (as the Drunk) and William Beaman, who honk noisemakers and clappers, while disrupting a public meeting. Their debut performances in this play are fantastic. 

The crew includes Nikki Liberatore as Stage Manager, Dom Grasso as Scenic Designer, Shelli Long as Properties Mistress, Carl Liberatore as Lighting Designer, Nancy Grasso as Lead Scenic Painter, Beth Lambert as Costumer, and Desiree Bracewell as Light & Sound Board Op.

From the director’s notes by Beaman: “As we navigate one of the most politically divisive climates and reckon with the outcomes of the inciting rhetoric from our leaders, we can take the lessons from this story and attempt to mend the divides that we have all helped create.”

Will the truth outweigh the lies? Find out at Limelight Theatre. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, January 1-February 2; and 2 p.m. Sunday, February 3. Make reservations at limelight-theatre.org or call 904-825-1164. See more details about The Stetson Kennedy Foundation below. 

The Stetson Kennedy Foundation, incorporated in 2003, carries on the passion, mission and vision of late author, activist, environmentalist and folklorist Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan as a young man, wrote 8 relevant books, campaigned for the State Senate with the help of his buddy, Folksinger Woody Guthrie, and fought for voters’ rights. He brought about global change as a champion of justice and equal rights, a preserver of folk culture and a steward of Brother Man/Mother Earth. Headquarters for the Stetson Kennedy Foundation are at Beluthahatchee Park, 1523 SR 13, Fruit Cove, Florida 32259. Website: www.stetsonkennedy.com.

Why We Chose to Sponsor This Particular Play:

  1. An Enemy of the People is one of the most important plays in the history of drama.  It follows the Greeks, Romans and Shakespeare to be part of the evolution in play writing of the 19th Century. Just as Stetson Kennedy was a revolutionary in his own time, so does this play symbolize a movement in theatre that was at the forefront of change.

2.  The Limelight Theatre production of An Enemy of the People is unique in several ways and connected to the goals of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation because of its timeliness.  The urgency of preserving cultural tradition and artistic excellence is being and has been damaged by false values.  This play is a stark reminder of the dangerous practices that false values can perpetrate upon society.

3.  The quintessence of art has been demonstrated by theatre artists in Flint, Michigan and elsewhere in their productions of this play, which correlates remarkably with the environmental changes that they face even today.  Further, the local theatre company in Flint produced two versions of this classic – one with a male protagonist and the other with a female. This innovation also fits with the human rights goals of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation. 

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