Ibsen classic still rings true at Goodman

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Take a town with a water system that is polluted and put it into a play.

Or take a town or company where the powers that be would rather cover-up a health hazard than pay for a costly fix.

Or take a media outlet that enjoys being in the good graces of a powerful politician so it will publicize fake information rather than the truth.

Flint, Michigan may come to mind, or a nuclear facility worthy of a movie, or name a media outlet you love to hate. Then go see ‘An Enemy of the People,’ written by Henrik Ibsen in 1882 and now playing at Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

Rebecca Hurd (Petra), Jesse Bhamrah (Billing), Philip Earl Johnson (Thomas Stockman), Lanise Antoine Shelley (Katherine) and Aubrey Deeker Hernandez (Hovstad) in An Enemy of the People at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz L:auren
Rebecca Hurd (Petra), Jesse Bhamrah (Billing), Philip Earl Johnson (Thomas Stockman), Lanise Antoine Shelley (Katherine) and Aubrey Deeker Hernandez (Hovstad) in ‘An Enemy of the People’ at Goodman Theatre. Photos by Liz Lauren

Adapted and directed by Robert Falls who points out in an online video that the choice is in “response to where the country may be headed,” and that its themes of corruption and environmental disaster make the play “contemporary,” the production ought to be playing all year but will only be at Goodman through April 15, 2019.

Well cast, Philip Earl Johnson brilliantly portrays Thomas Stockmann as a doctor worried about the illnesses he has seen as medical officer of the new Municipal Baths and as an idealist willing to take on townspeople and officials including his elder brother, Peter Stockmann. Peter, the town’s mayor and Thomas’ Baths boss, is depicted perfectly by Scott Jaeck

Lanise Antoine Shelley handles the role of Thomas’ pregnant, second wife Katherine with grace and restraint. Rebecca Hurd is very believable as Thomas’ adult daughter Petra who teaches school and follows her father’s ideals.

David Darlow is Katherine’s cantankerous, sly father Morten “the Badger,” Kiil, the wealthy owner of a tannery that is polluting the water.

Philip Earl Johnson (Thomas Stockmann) and Scott Jaeck (Peter Stockmann) in An Enemy of the People.
Philip Earl Johnson (Thomas Stockmann) and Scott Jaeck (Peter Stockmann) in ‘An Enemy of the People.’

Moving through the plot are Editor Hovstad (Aubrey Deeker Hernandez) of “The Peoples’ Messenger,” Asst. Editor Billing (Jesse Bhamrah) and  Aslaksen (Allen Gilmore), a publisher and the paper’s printer. They are characters who profess one thing then change direction when so determined by political winds.

Clever staging puts the backs of the townspeople to the audience when Thomas tries to hold a meeting to explain scientific findings that declare the bath waters to be toxic. Playing the townspeople are Larry Neumann, Jr. (The Drunk), Carley Cornelius, Arya Daire, Guy Massey, Roderick Peeples and Dustin Whitehead.

Instead of winning friends to his side at the meeting, Thomas insults the townspeople calling them stupid and comparing them to dogs. Even though the opening night theater-goers understood that Thomas’ belittling speech wasn’t going to convince anyone in the town to change, the Goodman audience broke into applause when Thomas pointed out that stupid leaders were elected by stupid people.

Indeed, the play is filled with interesting insights such as “The public doesn’t want new ideas. They are perfectly happy with the old ones.

‘An Enemy of the People’ is at Goodman Theatre , 170 N Dearborn St., Chicago, now through April 15, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.  For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

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