Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People by Schaubühne, Berlin
Above – Pictured Left to Right: Moritz Gottwald as Billing, Christoph Gawenda as Dr. Stockmann, and Renato Schuch at Hovstad. (Eva Meckbach as Mrs. Stockmann in back). Schaubühne Berlin performs Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People Friday–Saturday, October 12–13, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: M.Hirao)
Berlin’s renowned Schaubühne theater presents a revised version of Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, California October 12-13, 2018, produced by Cal Performances and is part of the 2018/19 Berkeley RADICAL programming initiative, Citizenship. Written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1882, An Enemy of the People provides creative theatre companies with rich material to express its prescient themes. Schaubühne theater’s version by Florian Borchmeyer, premiered July 18, 2012 in Avignon and September 8, 2012 in Berlin and retains the characters and general story. However, updated language, dialogue, situations, direction by Schaubühne’s provocative director Thomas Ostermeier, characters who are now a group of mainly thirty-somethings in the present day, and the disarmingly simple set of jet-black walls with perspective, views and appliances drawn on in white chalk, create a new vision of the play.
Pictured: Christoph Gawenda as Dr. Stockmann. Schaubühne Berlin performs Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People Friday–Saturday, October 12–13, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: Arno Declair)
An ensemble of seven actors bring to life the vibrant and relatable characters. They have the look of young tech professionals who work and play together. The abstract living room setting replete with a long wooden dining table is the family home of Thomas and his wife (Christoph Gawenda and Eva Meckbach), yet looks just as much like a co-working environment when their friends, family and colleagues drop by to visit.
Thomas, aka Dr. Stockmann, has done research about the quality of water in his home town and receives the results, which do not bode well, especially for a spa town whose tourism industry is vital for funding the city. His brother, Peter, a Member of the City Council (Konrad Singer) visits them and soon hears about the scientific report. This report and how to deal with it is the basis for everything in this story – and it is how the interests of each person and the spa town evolve and twist into something that is so much bigger. Ibsen’s and Borchmeyer’s astute unraveling of these characters creep up on you when their interwoven relationships wind tighter and tighter as the play builds to a somewhat unexpected yet impactful ending.
Pictured Left to Right: Christoph Gawenda as Dr. Stockmann and Thomas Bading as Morten Kiil. Schaubühne Berlin performs Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People Friday–Saturday, October 12–13, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: Arno Declair)
The banal young family with a baby and their group of friends are at ease as they hang out together, sing, play music and break off into conversations with undercurrents in twos or threes – each with a new perspective or point of view that skews the mind, with startling results and outstanding performances. The second act, set in an editor’s office of a newspaper quickly becomes a local point for wrangling office politics, egos – and a question of morals – what comes from telling the truth? There’s an absurdist tone in the play and realistic human reactions as they each try to find reasons to be able to stay afloat, that chillingly portend the future of each character.
An Enemy of the People is performed in German, with English supertitles without an intermission, and lasts approximately two hours thirty minutes long. On opening night the volume of the actors was rather soft and would benefit from being louder. An inventive creative team, together with director Ostermeier have developed a visually intriguing production, which sets the tone from the start and is not afraid to break boundaries, enhancing the storytelling: Costume Design by Nina Wetzel, Stage Design by Jan Pappelbaum, Music by Malte Beckenbach and Daniel Freitas, Dramaturgy by Florian Borchmeyer, Lighting Design by Erich Schneider, Wall Paintings by Katharina Ziemke.
This ensemble of accomplished actors (Gawenda, Singer, Meckbach, Renato Schuch, David Ruland, Moritz Gottwald and Thomas Bading) is exciting, physical and compelling. Ostermeier’s directing is taut, loose when needed and inspired – bringing out themes of friendship, family, self-interest, loyalty, politics and power, in equal measure. This fascinating production of An Enemy of the People by Schaubühne, Berlin provokes one to think and reflect about life today – and maybe even to speak out – Highly Recommended!
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