Co-directed by Susan D. Atkinson and Amy Kaissar, Bristol Riverside Theatre’s skilled production of AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE begins beautifully in subtle lighting and the everyday sounds of a town on the southern coast of Norway. Townspeople mingle and go about daily routines, setting the stage for the opening act. An abstract, bi-level set allows for the continuation of this subdued, complementary background action as the dynamic action of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play unfolds.
Members of the town, including two newspapermen, are enjoying the hospitality of Dr. Thomas Stockmann’s (Kevin Bergen) home as Mrs. Stockmann (Sabrina Profitt) serves roast beef and hot toddies. Dr. Stockmann is heralded as the discoverer and Medical Advisor of the Baths, a major source of local income from those who visit the town for health reasons. However, the doctor has also discovered that there is something nasty, corrupt, in the Bath’s waters. After confirming this by scientific means, he applies to his brother Mayor Peter Stockmann (Brian Drillinger) for action and remedy, only to receive a tongue lashing:
In lieu of the economic consequences that the truth would wreak, the press, who had promised to back the doctor in his convictions, quickly reverse on him, and the town opposes him. When Dr. Stockmann attempts to secure a meeting place to publicly educate the community,his house is afterwards stoned by those he seeks to save. He is politically thwarted at every turn. Hovstad (Marc LeVasseur) editor of the People’s Messenger reveals how things are to the doctor’s single daughter, Petra (Laura Giknis) as he tells her “After all, politics is the chief thing in life…”. Nevertheless, as the coals of contention heat up, Dr. Stockmann becomes increasingly stalwart in his convictions. In the end, he tells his family “… that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”
Dr. Stockmann. The source is poisoned, man! Are you mad? We live by trafficking in filth and garbage. The whole of our developing social life is rooted in a lie!
Mayor. …The man who makes such offensive insinuations against his own native place must be an enemy of society.
Through Kevin Bergen, Dr. Stockmann erupts majestically, with dignity, as Bergen skillfully builds tension throughout his presence upon the stage. Sabrina Profitt gives Mrs. Stockmann warmth, wisdom and strength that words alone cannot communicate. The mayor is well wrought by Brian Drillinger and Keith Baker plays a wonderfully wicked Morten Kiil, father-in-law to the doctor. Marc LeVasseur lends Hovstad proper gravity and plays well against Petra, played by Laura Giknis, who lights up the show with her energetic delivery. Shamus Hunter McCarthy also fills Billing, the newsman, with lots of fervor, while his colleague Mr. Aslaksen (P. Brenden Mulvey) is marvelously portrayed as an over-the-top moderate. The role of Captain Horster is given much depth and made memorable by Mark Collmer. The cast, supporting roles are strong, and a rotating community ensemble of actors, dramaturgs, and documentarians further sweeten the production.
Lighting (Deborah Constantine) and sound (Bradlee Ward) enhance the story as well as the set (Jason Simms) with it shades of sepia, browns, grays and occasional reds, and plays well upon the handsome period costumes (Gina Andreoli). [Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, Pa.] May 12-31, 2015; brtstage.org.