Salt Lake City protests about the location of homeless shelters, as well as ongoing complaints about Utah’s air quality, provide a backdrop for a reconsideration of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play “An Enemy of the People.”
Ibsen’s drama about the “pollution of truth” is scorchingly relevant, says Whit Hertford, who is adapting and directing a new production. Riot Act Theatre opens the show on Thursday, Sept. 21. The run continues through Oct. 7 in the basement of the former CUAC gallery at 175 E. 200 South, a space Hertford dubs The Wherehaüs.
“Enemy” explores the story of an idealistic doctor, Thomas Stockmann (Andy Rindlisbach), who discovers the town‘s water is polluted. The town’s mayor, his brother and the local newspaper urge him not to release his findings, which might hurt the town’s economy. When he reveals the contamination at a town meeting, fellow citizens turn on him and dub him “an enemy of the people.”
In the adaptation, Hertford has changed the contamination to air pollution. The play “is about speaking up when you don’t think things are right,” the director says, in an era when the names of high-profile whistle-blowers such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are instantly recognizable.
In the production, in the scene where Stockmann speaks to fellow citizens, Hertford says the house lights will come up to make it seem as if theatergoers are part of the town meeting. “We will rehearse this as though there will be no interruptions, but we will also be prepared for many interruptions and chaos,” the director says.
At a time when America’s democratic checks and balances are being tested, the theatermaker hopes a new look at Ibsen’s classic will energize theatergoers. “I don’t think decorum is needed right now,” Hertford says. It’s a story about “vegetarians and vegans and people who have causes and people who are resisting. And the cool thing is there are a couple of characters who take that too far.”
“An Enemy of the People”
Where • Riot Act Theatre at The Wherehaüs, 175 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City When • Pay-what-you-will preview Wednesday, Sept. 20; opens Sept. 21 and plays through Sept. 24; also, Sept. 27-28 and Oct. 4-7; all shows at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets • $19 ($17 students), at the door or riotacttheatre.com