Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 drama, An Enemy of the People, follows a Norwegian doctor who finds himself at odds with virtually everyone in his small Norwegian town after he discovers the local baths—a source of pride and tourism dollars—are both contaminated and poisoning people. He wants the local newspapers to cover the story. His brother, the mayor, wants him to stay quiet.
“The events of this play are seen in daily life,” says John “JJ” Johnson, Classical Theatre Company’s executive artistic director. “We see it everywhere—about government, about news headlines, about the effect industry has on the environment. This is about the Exxon Valdez, it’s about capitalism, it’s about the tobacco industry, the Keystone Pipeline.”
Classical’s two earlier mountings of Ibsen, Ghosts and the better-known A Doll’s House, were great successes for the company, so it was no wonder Johnson went back to the father of modern drama. The company produces works that are 100 years old or more, and Johnson was particularly struck by this play’s dissection of the role of the media. Is it a watchdog? Is it a mouthpiece for a partisan position? What’s real news? Then the play chews over the relationship we have with industry in our daily lives. How will putting this chemical plant here affect the surrounding area? Can the environment and business coexist?
Those are deep questions that Johnson says drama can address.
“This play is coming up on being 150 years old, and it could’ve been written last week,” he says. “The more things change, the more they do stay the same.”
He hopes the audience will feel that way as well and take solace in knowing that things we encounter every day were encountered and wrestled with long before us—and will likely be that way long after any one person (or theater company) is gone.
“Not that we’re going anywhere—we’re not!—but when I was thinking about this play, I said, if this was our last season, I’d kick myself for the rest of my life for not doing this show.”
An Enemy of the People, thru Feb. 25. Tickets $25. Chelsea Market Theatre, 4617 Montrose Blvd. 713-963-9665. More info and tickets at classicaltheatre.org.