Issues in Richland Players' 'Enemy of the People' are timeless

Special to the HeraldNovember 7, 2013 

Enemy of the People

Amy Lynne Darling, left, Nathan Dirkmaat and Alan Tindell rehearse a scene from the Richland Players production of Enemy of the People.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

An Enemy of the People, written in 1882, is a timeless drama about conflicting moral values among the people of a small Norwegian town.

The plot concerns the rights and wrongs of protecting the public from an unseen danger versus preserving the town's reputation and source of income.

The main character, Dr. Stockmann, discovers that the town's health springs, which attract tourists, are full of poison. Thinking he will be hailed a hero for discovering the danger, he is instead censured. The play explores the tension between speaking inconvenient truths versus keeping one's mouth shut and preserving income and social standing.

Stockmann is not a hero but an antihero. He is idealistic, generous, arrogant, condescending and competitive. All the other major characters in the play are equally convoluted.

The movie Jaws was based on Ibsen's play. In both, the plot revolves around an unseen menace in the water -- sharks or poison -- with decisions by town officials who choose between protecting the visitors or protecting the income and reputation of residents.

The Richland Players theater group stays true to the timeless quality of the story with props, furniture and costumes from different time periods all layered on stage.

In the same scene you might see a character with a 1940s style necktie, another in contemporary clothing, and a third in Norwegian folk dress.

One character asks for a candle to be lit while another uses her cellphone to take photos. The old-fashioned French doors in the main character's home automatically open and shut with a swoosh, like something from Star Trek.

It's hard to tell what year it is, but it doesn't seem to matter, because the issues have been with us for ages and will continue to be.

The stage crew is excellent, completely changing the set between acts as quietly and efficiently as possible, all while the music of Chopin floats over the audience.

A standout performance is given by Hugh Roberts as Kiil, a crafty old man. He manages to be funny and menacing at the same time. And he looks as if he is quite enjoying himself on stage.

The moral questions posed by the playwright in An Enemy of the People are never wrapped neatly and tied with a bow. Which of the characters are right? Are more than one of them right? What is the likely fate of this town? You'll have to watch the play to see.

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