Enemy ours

170127  Enmity of the People Rehearsal warmup  Davis

170127 Enmity of the People Rehearsal warmup Davis

UD Theatre challenges authority with ‘Enmity of the People’

By Tim Smith

Photo: (l-r) Betsy Mazza, UpLift Physical Theatre’s Nicholette Routhier, and Director Jerome Yorke in ‘Enmity of the People’ at UD Feb. 24-26photos: Kristin Davis

Picture this: one day you discover that your town’s drinking water might be contaminated. You report your concerns to the proper officials, but they deny that any problem exists. You tell your friends and family, who also begin asking questions. The local government retaliates by labeling you a whistle blower, not to be taken seriously, and telling the people what they want them to know, not what they need to know.

This isn’t a plot ripped from the headlines, but the subject of “Enmity of the People,” an original adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play “An Enemy of the People.” The play is being produced by the University of Dayton’s Theatre, Dance, and Performance Technology Program. An interesting approach was the decision to present the play with puppets.

Jerome Yorke is the director and guiding force behind the adaptation, and he was drawn to it for several reasons.

“What compelled me the most was the story,” Yorke says. “Henrik Ibsen is the father of modern drama, and he really knows how to write a compelling story. I wanted to get the students out of their mindset of what theatre is and more into a place of imagination, what it can be, sort of a magical mysticism. Rather than producing a play that has a script that tells you who the characters are and what their relationships are and what their theme is, I feel that with the parallels to what Ibsen wrote and what we’re living through today, there are some really great connections we can make while still engaging the students in an imaginative process.”

Yorke found many such parallels, even though Ibsen’s play was written in 1882. In addition to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, there are other points that still resonate.

“What does a person go through to speak up against the majority and to the majority?” Yorke asks. “What is it that makes that one person say ‘no’ out loud and make other people say ‘no’ out loud? What compels a person to actually speak up against authority? I want to understand what it is that makes that one person say ‘no’ and other people say ‘no, this is unjust.’ And moving it into our current situation in the world, isn’t it amazing that over a hundred years later, we still have the same struggles?”

Ibsen addresses a number of challenges that are still relevant, such as environmental issues versus economic interests, professional responsibilities of experts in policy debates, and the moral dilemmas and tensions involved in whistle blowing. Yorke and his ensemble cast manage to highlight these themes, as well as the current controversy of false versus real news.

“There are some elements of media being persuaded either way, telling what the truth is or skewing what the truth is,” he says. “What’s going on with fact versus opinion-based news and reporting? There’s also the corruption of a government organization saying what is important for the public to know and what is not important for the public to know. I don’t want to pick one before starting, but I want it to come from the ensemble.”

Ibsen’s play was first presented in 1882 and was considered controversial for its time. In the 1950s, playwright Arthur Miller adapted it for the Broadway stage. Miller made several changes to make the play more acceptable for a 1950s audience, particularly in the wake of the Communist witch hunts, which gave a sinister meaning to the words “informer” and “whistle blower.” The story was later made into a 1978 movie of the same name starring Steve McQueen, set against Ibsen’s original backdrop.

Yorke chose to take a unique approach with his ensemble cast and employed the assistance of the UpLift Physical Theatre Company of San Francisco and Dayton’s own Zoot Theatre Company to assist with aspects of physical movement and puppetry.

“Some of the big obstacles are taking a piece that is heavily based on dialogue and completely rearranging it and flipping it on its head to be a lyrical piece, not in the sense of a musical, but lyrical, so that it moves through space with not only our minds but our bodies,” he says. “I want to really strip down the dialogue and use as few words as possible. Ibsen could take the deeper aspects of human existence and put them into words. My quest in theatre is to understand how we move and can be moved by a piece. Sometimes words can be distracting unless they’re used in a powerful way.”

Yorke hopes that the audience will take away a more enlightened view of what’s relevant and responsible into a world in constant turmoil.

“Hopefully, they’ll be more aware of some of their own views about the things that come from the play,” he says. “I want them to leave with more questions than they have answers so that they can incorporate them into their own lives and become more active in their own communities. Obviously, we want them to feel like they were entertained. This style of theatre is unique in this region. I’d like the audience to say, ‘Oh, wow, this is what theatre can also be!’ I want them to really connect to it in their own way.”

‘Enmity of the People’ takes the stage at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, in Fitz Hall at the University of Dayton’s Black Box Theatre, 300 College Park in Dayton. General admission is $12 or $8 for UD students. For tickets and more information, please call 937.229.2545, or visit UDayton.edu/ArtsSciences/Academics/Theatre/Productions.

 

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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