The Enemy, a contemporary adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, asks us to consider what it means to speak the truth in a world controlled by politics and the media. Unfortunately, in this adaptation by Donna Spencer, these questions are explored through a melodramatic soap opera.
The Enemy follows Dr. Stockman as she discovers a horrible truth about the contamination of water in her town. As she comes forward with the facts, both the mayor (who also happens to be her brother) and the media twist her revelations, turning her into the enemy.
In changing Ibsen’s original male protagonist to female, Spencer attempts to make an interesting statement. It is one that could be empowering, but ends up floundering.
The story comes to be about the female voice, and how that voice is deemed illegitimate so often in the hands of the media and political power. With outdated jokes about how women don’t understand construction and only know about shoes, it is difficult to see why the town would fall on the mayor’s side in this issue.
It is also difficult to see how this play empowers women. While Dr. Stockman (Jenn Griffin) fights to the bitter end, she becomes a social pariah and ends the play with a statement about how when women are strong, they must learn to be lonely.
As a political drama, The Enemy often takes on a very soap opera style. With the performers over-dramatizing moments, it creates distance, rather than a connection to the story.
As Stockman, Jenn Griffin carries much of the show, but some lines lack the emotion of the text and other times, she pushes too hard.
There are stand outs here though. Daniel Arnold as Howie Hockstead, provides comedic relief, and Donna Soares, as Alexis Allen, takes on the serious business woman role with gusto.
And while the first act is chock-full of revelations and keeps you on the edge of your seat, the second act drags. There is also a missed opportunity in the town meeting, where the audience is invited to vote. However, the invitation to participate is not clear. This could have been a powerful way to engage personal opinions, and perhaps even change the outcome of the play.
The Enemy brings forward issues that are hyper-relevant to today’s world: the media, political corruption and our environmental crises. Unfortunately this potentially poignant and powerful drama misses the mark.
For a play centered on water, this one left me dry.
The Enemy, adapted by Donna Spencer from Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre Production at The Firehall Theatre (281 E. Cordova St, Vancouver) through December 1. Visit firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.