Adapted and directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, November 14. Continues until December 1
Is the majority always right? That’s the question that the The Enemy appears to ask at first. Adapted and directed by artistic producer Donna Spencer, from Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 An Enemy of the People, the play examines tensions between ethics and public interest. The Enemy does a nice job of transplanting Ibsen’s story into a contemporary setting that B.C. audiences can relate to. However, the play could benefit from some refinement, as the dialogue feels a bit unnatural, and there are a few too many extraneous pieces.
It takes place in an unnamed B.C. town where Dr. Stockman (nicely written as a female character in Spencer’s version) discovers evidence of water contamination. However, the town’s economic prosperity from its tourism industry will crash if Dr. Stockman releases her findings, and she also soon learns the consequences of challenging political authority. Therefore, the play examines whether one should follow one’s ethics or respect the majority preference.
Rather than natural conversation, the play’s dialogue sometimes comes across as a series of opinion editorials read aloud by advocates for different causes, especially in the first act. We hear the characters express their opinions on a number of topics, such as lack of voter participation and how the public-school system is designed.
The play tends to painfully spell everything out for audiences. For example, when Jenn Griffin, who plays Dr. Stockman, explains the mechanics behind the water pollution, she speaks as if she’s filming an educational video. While I appreciated the thorough explanation, the delivery could have been subtler.
In fact, much of the play could use more subtlety, as the characters frequently state the obvious. At one point, the publisher of the town’s news site, the Daily Dose, has to compromise with the mayor’s agenda to keep her media outlet in business, and Howie, a journalist (Daniel Arnold), turns to the audience and says, “It’s still difficult for women in business.”
The Enemy’s flow is also disjointed. The plot is fairly simple in the first act, but the second act is infused with subplots and twists, from blackmail schemes to deals to get Dr. Stockman to stay silent. And while these additions may give further substance to the story, it gets a little confusing to keep track of what each character’s agenda is.
The show does boast some great performances, particularly Griffin’s, which displays how an upstanding individual can be driven to the edge of sanity when the ruling powers gang up on her. Griffin’s calm erodes as the story progresses, and her character desperately hangs on to her cause.
Paul Herbert is also strong in his role of Mayor Stockman, sibling to the doctor. His cold-hearted disregard for his sister’s well-being shows how greed can override family love. But Herbert also capably switches into a cartoonlike mode when his character is in the spotlight at the town’s public meeting—adding some welcome comic relief to the production.
The Enemy digs deep to reveal how people and organizations, fuelled by apathy and self-serving interests, can push the majority to support their causes—as well as the consequences of not complying.
The play makes all of this relatable to local audiences, as tensions between environmental concerns and commercial profits are no strangers to B.C. However, The Enemy could gain from simplified plot lines and a subtler way of weaving its messaging into the dialogue.