Orange County Theatre Reviews

Written by Daniella Litvak 

Mayor Vaughn: I’m only trying to say that Amity is a summer town. We need summer dollars. Now, if the people can’t swim here, they’ll be glad to swim at the beaches of Cape Code, the Hamptons, Long Island…

 

Brody: That doesn’t mean we have to serve them up as smorgasbord! –Jaws[1]

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) is considered the “Father of Modern Drama.” Ibsen created rich psychological dramas and brought realism to the stage. He has and continues to influence playwrights and filmmakers. Only Shakespeare’s plays are more frequently performed than Ibsen’s.

Also like Shakespeare’s plays, productions have changed the time and setting of Ibsen’s plays. Ibsen set An Enemy of the People in a small, Norwegian town during the 19th century. UC Irvine transferred the story to the present day in a small, southwest Colorado town. However, the plot pretty much remains the same. Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Nick Manfredi) is the Chief Medical Officer for the town’s spa baths, which are the primary tourist attraction –and therefore the primary source of revenue –for the town. Thomas discovers the baths are polluted. He wants to alert people to the danger, but the mayor –who is also his sister Betta (Jennifer Holcombe) –wants the truth buried. Dr. Stockmann continues to try to get his message out, and the ensuing backlash threatens to ruin him.

The setting update has its pros. The timelessness of the play’s message is reinforced. It enables more diversity in casting. In the original the mayor and the character of Aslaksen (Emily Daly) were men, and here women get to perform the roles. Also the town drunk gets to wear a Pink Floyd t-shirt.

However, not everything translates well to the present day. It feels odd watching Dr. Stockmann be stymied because a newspaper won’t print his report, when he could have just posted it online. Now the internet doesn’t (and can’t) function like a magic wand instantly solving all of Dr. Stockmann’s problems, but the lack of reference to or consideration of it feels like a plot hole.

The way the play starts makes it seem like an ensemble piece. As the story continues the focus is increasingly centered on Dr. Stockmann. In light of the ending it is clever structuring. However, it means the rest of the characters don’t get much of a chance to develop. There are some scenes that feel like a set up for a subplot –such as the flirtation between Billing (Robert Tendy) and Petra (Kristen Daniels), Dr. Stockmann’s daughter –but they don’t go anywhere.

Another drawback of Ibsen being so focused on the message, it makes some of the characters’ actions appear forced. Characters seem to change their stance on the polluted water issue merely because the plot demands it.    

The intensity Manfredi has to display in the role of Dr. Stockmann must be exhausting, but Manfredi never wavers. He keeps the audience’s attention on him throughout the show. Thomas Varga is wonderfully menacing as Dr. Stockmann’s father in-law, Morten Kill. When the mayor was able to interact with newspaper editor Hovstad (Aaron Arroyo), the actors played off each other very well.

The Stockmann home set is very beautiful. Many shows feature a living room set, but this show demonstrates how vibrant colors and a mountain backdrop can really elevate a production’s visual elements.  The show’s final tableau is very striking – adding something special to the experience.      

Review
8.4 Overall
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Story7.5
Acting8.5
Set & Design10
Costumes8
Entertainment8
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April 30th – May 8th 2016

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            Sidenote:        

[1] An Enemy of the People has been cited as an influence on the film.

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  • Photo : Paul R. Kennedy
  • Photo : Paul R. Kennedy
  • Photo : Paul R. Kennedy
  • Photo : Paul R. Kennedy

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