A Play for Many Times: "An Enemy of the People"

A small Norwegian town has just begun to win fame and wealth through its medicinal spring waters. Dr. Stockmann, resident physician, discovers that the waters are polluted. On receiving proof of this, he immediately reports on his findings, but is shocked to find that instead of being thanked, he is looked upon as a dangerous crank, motivated by a desire to prove that his fellow townspeople are wrong, and to bring financial ruin upon them. The press will not report his findings, officials refuse to give him a hearing. He loses his position and the townspeople boycott him, as every weapon of blackmail, slander, and eviction are brought against his family.

Henrik Ibsen, one of the world’s most famous playwrights, wrote An Enemy of the People as a challenge to the hypocrisy that reigned in late-19th-century Europe. Important themes Ibsen wrote into this play include the integrity of science, honesty and truthfulness, ethics of politics, and manipulation of an electorate—all issues that are very much with us today.

Bozeman Actors Theatre is using an Arthur Miller adaptation of An Enemy of the People for this production. Miller wrote his adaptation in 1950, during the height of McCarthyism. While Miller was strongly influenced by Ibsen’s plays, he was especially intrigued by Enemy’s portrait of the suppression of free speech.

In BAT’s production of An Enemy of the People we present an adaptation that balances conflicting ideologies to the point where one cannot comfortably take sides. The two main protagonists are siblings: Eva Stockmann is the mayor of the town, Dr. Thomas Stockmann is the leading doctor. They both present challenges to the viewer so that by the end of the play one is not certain who is right, who is wrong, creating perfect opportunities for dialogue. —Kevin Brustuen