Old story, new play. With genderbent characters, a contemporary Canadian context, and the incorporation of social media, An Enemy of the People is anything but dry. For fans of Henrik Ibsen’s classic, Maria Milisavljevic’s adaptation may seem unrecognizable. The basic premise, however, remains the same.
Anika Lirette plays Dr. Thomasina Stockmann, the medical officer for a small Maritime town of which her brother Peter (Jesse Lapointe) is mayor. A First Nations woman adopted at 10 years-old, Thomasina grows up as a member of one of the town`s more prosperous families.
As a prominent member of the community, the play opens on Thomasina and her posse setting up for a charity benefit hosted at the local civic theatre. The theatre’s executive director Michael Campbell (Stephen Tobias) is also the owner of the community’s only broadcasting station, and complicates the plot with his political alliances. Thomasina`s band of misfits consists of husband Kirk Keele (Ian Goff), journalist Emma Chaisson (Phillippa Wennberg), camerawoman Sandra Hasser (Stephanie David), and teacher Anna `the Captain` Hudson (Alicia Drisdelle).
The predominant conflict in An Enemy of the People is one of basic human rights: clean water. When Thomasina tests samples of the water from the town`s spa and its First Nations reserve, it is originally in attempt to validate the First Nations` land claim.
What she discovers from the test results, however, is that the water is contaminated with elevated levels of arsenic and cyanide. Concerned for the health of the local indigenous population, as well as spa patrons, Thomasina determines to publicly reveal her findings regardless of the risk to her own reputation. Friends Emma and Sandra, Youtube webcasters, are happy to help Thomasina get the word out. In proper social media fashion, their webcast goes viral.
Thomasina`s situation is complicated by her relationships, both romantic and filial. Her brother Peter is running for the province`s Member of Parliament and discourages her from going public with the contaminated water scandal. The town relies on the spa economically, after all, and both brother and sister helped develop it in the first place. Peter is quick to remind Thomasina that she is adopted, criticizing her concerns for the lives of local First Nations as biased due to her lineage.
Worse still, her father-in-law Morton Keele (Bob Doherty) owns the El Dorado gold mine that is poisoning the water supply.
Lirette`s portrayal of Thomasina is one of passion, her tears and shouting matches as authentic as it gets. Paired with Lapointe`s Peter, an ambitious, and IBS-plagued, politician, the tension between brother and sister is palpable.
Ultimately, An Enemy of the People is a story about an individual vilified by the community they are trying desperately to help. In Ibsen’s 1882 original as well as Milisavljevic’s contemporary adaptation, morality, democracy, and the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection are addressed in a production that is at once comedic and tragic.
While there is no clean conclusion to An Enemy of the People, the play leaves its audience with questions. What is a government`s responsibility to First Nations, or a journalist`s responsibility to society? The play`s end result is a sense of discomfort; the social, political, and moral realities it highlights too explicit to ignore.
An Enemy of the People runs at the Imperial Theatre from May 18th-21st at 7:30pm, with a matinee on Saturday, May 21st at 2:00pm. For more information visit www.saintjohntheatrecompany.com