The Bible says ‘The Truth will set you free.’ But not always. At least, not according to playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906).
The Norwegian’s plays were scandalous in his day. His 1882 work, An Enemy of the People, remains provocative even in our time, especially in the modernized, Americanized adaptation by Pulitzer Prize-winner Arthur Miller.
The main character is a physician in a small resort town (relocated from Norway to coastal Maine) whose primary attraction is a health spa that draws from resident hot springs. The doctor discovers that the water is contaminated. He expects to be lauded for exposing the truth and saving the town from the nightmare of infecting tourists with disease, but instead, the locals turn on him, saying he’s destroying their financial future. They band against him, declare him ‘an enemy of the people,’ and ostracize him completely.
Ibsen, arguably the greatest playwright of the 19th century, was skewering the irrational tendencies of the masses, and the hypocritical and corrupt nature of the political system they support.
His powerful study of an honest man persecuted because of his insistence on telling the truth was the inspiration for the Academy Award-winning film, Jaws.
“I found the play to be incredibly resonant today — in terms of politics and pollution,” says Intrepid artistic director Sean Cox. “And I absolutely love the Miller adaptation.
“The doctor’s wife has a great line,” Cox continues. “’Without power, what good is the truth?’” It’s about the power of the Mayor (the doctor’s brother, also Chairman of the Board of the health Institute), and the Press. The Mayor exerts his influence on the newspaper, which then denounces the doctor. It doesn’t seem dated at all. It feels like a new play.
“Miller didn’t specify a time period, but we decided to set it in 1954, during the McCarthy ‘Red Scare’ trials. Hopefully, people will make the connections to today. The importance of power and money. Public health and the public good. It should be a black-and-white issue. But some people might have trouble taking sides. They may think the Mayor makes a lot of sense, that the revelations will destroy the town, eliminating jobs and the potential for growth.”
“What’s fascinating about the play,” adds Christy Yael, Cox’s wife and co-director, “is that all the characters act from self-interest, using this issue to further their own cause. It turns right and wrong into a very gray, convoluted, subjective issue.”
Cox and Yael are excited about their cast — and ecstatic about new theater, a beautiful, flexible, 200-seat space. Cox calls it “a miniature Potiker,” because it was designed by the same architect who created that malleable theater at the La Jolla Playhouse. Unlike the Academy’s old Roundabout Theatre, this one has all the bells and whistles: a lobby, dressing and green rooms, a scenic shop — and closed-circuit TVs in all of them.
“The empty-box design makes the space unique and versatile,” explains Cox, “allowing for multiple seating configurations. For this play, we wanted a little more intimacy, so our configuration accommodates just over 100 seats.”
Part of the $8.9 million Performing Arts Center on the Academy campus, the theater, which adjoins the Music Building, is named for Clayton E. Liggett, a beloved theater teacher at the school in the 1960s-70s. One of Liggett's most prominent supporters is his former student Eddie Mueller, later known as Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam.
Intrepid’s Cox has a direct link, too. His inspirational high school drama teacher was a protégé of Clayton Liggett. So Cox sees himself as “kind of the third generation of Shakespeare-lovers. They each passed the torch.”
Cox is continuing that legacy, including an internship program in every Intrepid production. This time, 20 student interns are contributing onstage and behind the scenes. On February 18, they’ll present their own version of An Enemy of the People. In preparation, student actors are working with the adult professionals playing the same role.
“They’re not replicating the adult version,” asserts Cox, who directs the students. “The staging will be different. The kids are awesome; they’re creating their own take on the characters.”
This is the first professional production in the state-of-the-art theater. Now it’s up to you, Encintans, to come out to see and support a dramatic new addition to the community and its nightlife.
The Intrepid Shakespeare Theatre production of An Enemy of the People performed in the new Clayton E. Liggett Theatre at San Dieguito Academy, previews through February 2, officially opens February 3 and runs through February 19.
Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays (no performance Feb. 9); 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets ($15-35) are available at 760-652-5011 or www.intrepidshakespeare.com.
The Student/Intern production of the play will be Saturday, February 18 at 12 noon.