‘An Enemy of the People’ showcases breadth and depth of Hilberry talent

Originally posted by The Examiner and written by Patty Nolan. Read the full review here

An Enemy of the People at the Hilberry Theatre. Photo by Bruce Giffin

An Enemy of the People at the Hilberry Theatre.
Photo by Bruce Giffin

One of our favorite things about WSU’s Hilberry Theatre is the fearless range of theatrical productions the graduate students inevitably participate in over the course of a three-year MFA program. This is as true for the acting company as it is for those in production, design and theatre management courses. Loyal patrons get to go along for this extended sleigh ride through a performance landscape that takes in comedies, dramas, musicals and romances across the broad and timeless expanse of the Western canon. This weekend, the course took a dramatic turn for the opening of the fifth and penultimate show in the 2014-2015 season..

This Hilberry production of Henrik Ibsen’s powerhouse play “An Enemy of the People” uses the crisp adaption by Arthur Miller. (Fun fact – the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright began his literary career as a student at University of Michigan, where he majored in journalism and wrote for the student paper, the Michigan Daily.) With “An Enemy of the People,” Miller believed in the vitality of Ibsen’s message so much that he scrupulously adapted it for fidgety American audiences. This play – which retains its setting in a small Norwegian town – poses timeless questions about what happens when truth flies in the face of power, greed, and the selfish fears of “the people.” It’s the kind of play that offers any company the chance to show off their theatrical chops – and the Hilberry Company rises to the occasion.

The unlikely hero of the story is Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Brandy Joe Plambeck), an idealistic physician who discovers that the town’s “healing” hot springs are contaminated with deadly bacteria. He is quick to share the information with his brother, the town Mayor (Brandon Grantz), so that no more people will be made ill by the infested waters. What the pure-hearted doctor fails to consider, and what the Mayor is counting on, is that the community relies on the spa for tourist dollars. Flying in the face of scientific evidence, and goaded on by the mayor, the people assume an aggressive stance of denial –attributing a variety of selfish motives to the good Doctor’s actions. The Doctor takes a stand, but when his family’s welfare is also threatened, he must choose between sticking to his principles, joining the conspiracy to keep the springs’ reputation (if not the water itself) unsullied, or packing up his family and escaping to America.

Brandy Joe Plambeck finds the right balance between idealism and naivety. His Dr. Stockman is not a man given to bravado; rather, he is baffled, dumbstruck and hurt that the townsfolk he has loved could so quickly and easily betray their better nature. It is only when they declare him an “enemy of the people” that he understands the situation. If “the people” choose to follow an evil, destructive path that will most surely end in the illness and death of innocents, he must embrace that enmity in the name of truth.

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