A Crappy (or Maybe Pretty Good) Ibsen

The conflict-of-interest edition!

In the interest of full disclosure:OC Weekly theater critic Joel Beers is involved in the production of Stages' version of Henrik Ibsen'sAn Enemy of the People. So we asked a bunch of people not connected with theWeekly to see the thing, in hopes of obscuring this conflict of interest:

Ibsen gives us a backdrop that could easily parallel contemporary headlines: Dr. Thomas Stockmann discovers that the spa he helped build poses an environmental hazard. He refuses to cover this up and is ostracized by his brother, who is also the mayor, along with the not-so-silent middle-class majority and the supposedly independent liberal press. Ibsen's concerns are certainly timeless, and Brian Kojac's Dr. Stockmann does a fine job in rendering them in Edward Mast's adaptation, particularly the agitating tenet that "the majority is always wrong." (Russell Dunn)

It's remarkable how well this 1950s retro adaptation of a 19th-century script manages to provide relevant perspective on current-day events like, say, last summer's sudden and inexplicable reopening of Huntington Beach's polluted coastline over the July Fourth weekend after months of closure. Did civic leaders chose receipts over public health?

In the shadowy world of the stage, as in the real world, it seems the most egregious contamination is neither chemical nor bacterial, but the moral indifference lurking just below the surface of a short-sighted, silent majority. (Scott Sandin)

Director Patrick Gwaltney's updating of the tale to a 1950s-like setting makes the story more accessible and the language more relevant. Having Dr. Stockmann address the audience as the community is effective, but having actors shout from the rear of the small theater becomes overbearing, and prerecorded crowd noise becomes almost comic when it's off-cue. (Ruth Ricks)

Gwaltney's valiant effort to veer away from realism in this production raises an intriguing question: Can some kind of figurative staging be employed to communicate Ibsen's idea that "the strongest man is the man who must stand alone"? However, "the power of suggestion" never fully materializes in the piece, or at least not to the extent that it contributes to anything more than saving money on scenic, costume and properties design. This undermines a production that otherwise adequately tells the story and captures the frustration of Ibsen's famous firebrand. (Russell Dunn)

While Kojac is excellent in his roller-coaster portrayal of Dr. Stockmann's private battle, painting a convincing picture of a character locked in an emotional and psychological struggle, the simplicity of Kojac's supporting cast ultimately prevents the show from elevating itself. (Randy K. Sheets)

The cast is completely competent and easily endears even the smuggest of characters to the audience's ranks. (Jeanne Gentry)

Standout performances include Bradley A. Whitfield as a fitfully Babbit-like Mr. Albertson and Michael Brainard as Dana Rohrabacher—er, I mean, the town mayor. (Scott Sandin)

An Enemy of the People at Stages, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. $12. Through May 21.

 
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