Drama department’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ explores modern environmental issues

Publicity photo for Tufts' new theater show 'An Enemy of the People' (2019) is captured. Courtesy Ted Simpson

This Thursday, the Tufts Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies will open a production of Brad Birch’s 2018 adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, “En Folkefiende” (“An Enemy of the People”) in the Balch Arena Theater. Directed by Noe Montez, associate professor of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies as well as the director of the Ph.D. program in Theatre and Performance, this stage play follows the story of geologist Tom Stockmann’s discovery of water contamination in his town.

The play explores how the media and corporate interests work to cover up this environmental crisis so they don’t experience any of the consequences or ramifications from it despite being culpable,Montez said in an interview with the Daily. 

This plotline is eerily resonant with the concerns of modern climate activists. “I thought about the numerous environmental and climate crises that are affecting the world at this given moment,Montez said regarding his proposal of “An Enemy of the People” to the production’s selection committee, “and the ways that both the media and corporate interests are complicit and perpetuating a sense that there is nothing to be done when there are demonstrated measurable steps that we can take both as individuals and through our governmental entities.

Montez noted a second parallel between the themes of the show and modern media and consumers. “One of the themes that emerges for the corporate interest in this play is to think about the media as an enemy of the people,Montez said. “This is language that has been echoed by fascist and dictatorial regimes throughout the history of the 20th century, and notably with President Trump on Twitter with some degree of regularity.” 

Taite Pierson, a junior psychology and environmental studies double major and drama and dance double minor, plays the role of Kate, Tom’s wife, in the production. She shares Montez’s sentiments regarding individual-institution relations, and offered advice for audience members. 

I want people to think about what makes us believe certain people what makes us care about certain things and how can we work understanding other people’s perspectives in order to have the best possible outcome,” Pierson said. 

In recent years, perhaps as a result of the media coverage surrounding the climate crisis, there have been several adaptations of Ibsen’s original play. Montez shared that there were certain aspects of Birch’s adaptation that lent themselves well to this departmental production. 

What resonated with me in this particular adaptation is the contemporaneity of the language, the streamlining of the plot and the ways that it really does serve to sharpen the focus of its energies and thinking about the people who control and shape public debate at the highest levels of capital and cultural power,” Montez said. It is perhaps this “streamlining of the plot” that allowed the Tufts production of the show to employ several non-traditional directorial choices.

Emma Mandziuk, a first-year enrolled in the SMFA combined-degree program who plays the role of Petra, Tom’s daughter, told the Daily that this production places a unique emphasis on the budding love story between Petra and Billing, played by senior Nikhil Nandagopal

It makes you want their relationship to succeed, but you now think about the environmental impacts and how that will affect their lives,Mandziuk said. “It brings the environmental consequences of what the play is about into everyone’s homes, and focuses on the domestic sphere and how that relates to the bigger picture.” 

Nandagopal, a psychology major, said that this production is unique in that it represents historically underrepresented groups in theatre, notably with Kate and Tom being a same-sex couple — as Tom is cast as a woman in Tufts’ production

I feel like this relationship between Kate and Tom, being a same-sex relationship, is amazing for representation; there should be a lot more of that,Nandagopal said. “I also want people to think about how the power dynamic would have changed if that relationship were presented differently, and that they think about how women like Tom in the real world who are exceptionally good at their jobs try to assert themselves but cannot because of bureaucratic, political and systemic forms of oppression.Nandagopal did follow this by stating his belief that the theatre world still has a long way to go in terms of equal representation. 

Montez and other members of the production staff led company members in frequent discussions regarding the themes of the play, and have promoted conversation among cast members. Pierson expressed her gratitude surrounding the space created for discussion. 

I have loved all of the conversations we’ve had throughout this process. It has been one of the most enriching rehearsal experiences I’ve had because the topics are so important. We are constantly thinking about the bigger themes and constantly asking questions. Even backstage, the actors will talk about [the themes] … it’s very Tufts.”  

The cast members all expressed that they hope to leave audience members feeling inspired to think about these bigger themes and help people achieve a mindset in which they can create their own spaces for discussion of these issues, rather than letting the “enemies of the people” silence discussion. 

I would really like [the audience] to ponder and think critically about the ways that different stakeholders address environmental issues,Nandagopal shared. “I feel like we don’t challenge systems enough, and if this is a system that they think they should challenge, they should go for it,” Nandagopal added.

This production has involved a collaboration with the campus Eco-Reps and the Office of Sustainability. According to Montez, a display highlighting local and relevant climate issues will be presented in the lobby of the Balch Arena Theater after performances, alongside a display focused on the work of environmental activist Lois Gibbs, a Tufts honorary degree recipient and the initiator of the Love Canal investigation, which led to the discovery that a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, NY, had been built on top of a toxic waste dump — a situation not unlike Tom’s in “An Enemy of the People.”

Mandziuk offered thoughts in response to the multidisciplinary approach to this production. 

At the end of the day, theatre should be an amalgamation of a bunch of different disciplines because we are supposed to mirror real-life as best we can. Interdisciplinary work, that’s what Tufts is all about.”

An Enemy of the People” opens this weekend in the Balch Arena Theater with shows at 8 p.m. on Oct. 24–26, and a second round of shows at 8 p.m. from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. Tickets are $10 for students except for Oct. 24 when they are $5, and Oct. 31 when they are $1. Tickets can be purchased through the Tufts Drama and Dance tickets website or at the Aidekman box office. 


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