An Enemy of the People
"I sent samples of the water to the University for an exact chemical analysis."
"And that's what you've just received?"
"This is it. It proves the existence of infectious organic matter in the water."
"Well, thank God, you discovered it in time."
Are these words taken from a taping of a recent meeting of Alachua County's Environmental Protection Advisory Committee (EPAC)? They certainly could be but they're not! These are words found in the opening act of Arthur Miller's adaptation (1950) of Henrik Ibsen's play "An Enemy of the People" to be presented at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre beginning October 12.
I first directed this play in March of 1974 at Santa Fe Community College where I was director of theatre for over twenty years. While a graduate student at the University of Florida I had read the usually assigned "A Doll's House" and "Hedda Gabler" and found Ibsen him to be a difficult but provocative playwright. I continued to read him after the assignments were over and happened upon "The Enemy of the People" in the early 1970's. I was overwhelmed by the relevance of this play to that time period.
I chose this play in 1974 more because of my infatuation with Ibsen than my interest in the environment. I was aware, certainly of the Love Canal tragedy and the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 as well as the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. However, spending the first ten years of my life in a small town in the north woods of Maine learning to swim and to fish, I took those clean, clear waters for granted. Strangely enough, however, the main industry of this town was a pulp mill where paper was made. (Ibsen's source of pollution is a tannery.)
November of 2000, however, is another matter. Besides the fact that a person would have to be comatose not to realize that our environment is in danger, national and local media reported specific incidents which prompted me to direct this play again. Some examples are the "suspicion" of an abandoned turpentine plant near Cross City causing pollution in wells and killing wildlife, Hawthorne's problems with well contamination, marginally effective wastewater treatment plants and having unsuitable soil for septic tanks, Gilchrist County problems with run-off from animal waste and mercury deposits found in local rivers. On the national scene the timber industry fights more stringent clean water rules and in Ontario, Canada E coli found in the water supply and not reported immediately results in at least five deaths and many illnesses. In addition two excellent films, based on actual appenings, "A Civil Action" (Massachusetts) and "Erin Brockovich" (California) illustrated pollution tragedies.
Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) published this play in 1882. He based the main theme on an incident in Germany when the poet Alfred Meisner told Ibsen that Meisner's father had been a medical officer at the spa at Teiplitz in 1830's and there had been an outbreak of cholera which the doctor felt it his duty to make known publicly. As a result, the season was ruined and the citizens became so enraged that they stoned the doctor's house and forced him to flee the town. An incident in Norway in which a speaker was shouted down by a crowd not allowing him to expound on the city's neglect of the poor also caught his attention.
However, Ibsen's main reason for writing this play was to illustrate the importance of ethical choice and the freedom to make that choice without fear of reprisal. Dr. Thomas Stockmann as can be seen in the opening quotations has discovered that there is pollution in Kirsten Springs, a spa that is the economic sustenance of the community. He does feel that this must be reported to the people and initially informs his brother, the mayor and chairman of the board of the springs, of the pollution. Not getting the expected response, he goes to the liberal media for help. They initially respond favorably but politics intervenes and.... Well, you'll just have to come and see the play running Thursdays through Saturdays beginning on October 12 and ending on November 4 at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre at 619 South Main Street. Phone 378-9166 for reservations.
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