Audience members will vote on a doctor’s fate after he uncovers a clandestine truth.
On Sunday at Schoenberg Hall, the CFan Chinese Theater Group will perform “An Enemy of the People,” a 19th-century play by Henrik Ibsen. The play follows Dr. Thomas Stockmann and his investigation of possibly contaminated water, which the townspeople use to operate their popular and profitable springs. As he divulges the truth, he encounters resistance not only from the townspeople but also from his family – audience members will later get involved and share their stance on Stockmann’s actions through a vote that decides whether or not he’s a public enemy.
Although Ibsen originally set the play in a 19th-century Norwegian town, director Wang Yang said they intentionally omitted the location to highlight the play’s universal themes, touching on human nature and ideology. The fourth-year mathematics of computation and linguistics student said they also altered Stockmann’s characterization, aiming to present him as a less perfect hero. Through the production, she said the group wanted to focus on how truth changes depending on perspective and one’s status within a majority or minority group.
“It’s hard to say who is right, who is wrong,” Wang said. “The conflict between the people is unresolvable because of their ideologies.”
Most versions of the play portray Stockmann as a hero, but to make him more flawed, Lin Sun, the publicity director who also worked on the script, said they portrayed Stockmann as an extreme champion of justice. He feels he is better than the townspeople and is prideful of his profession – these harmful traits eventually culminate near the end of the play, the second-year pre-communication and economics student said.
“He’s not the perfect person who’s against the entire world; that’s not what we’re looking for,” Sun said.
Adding to his imperfection, Shiyu Ji, a third-year statistics student who plays the doctor, said his character is an idealist and believes he will make a positive change despite the townspeople’s adamant resistance because of fear of losing the lucrative springs. For instance, in one scene, Stockmann had informed the newspaper of the water test results, but the mayor, who is also Stockmann’s brother, persuades the paper to not publish them. Unaware of the situation, Stockmann jovially heads back to the news office, ranting about social change and consequently paints himself as crazy, Ji said.
Stage manager Luxuan Huang said the theater group used vintage costumes and props to showcase Stockmann’s more humble traits. The first-year undeclared student said the crew went to vintage stores to purchase 19th-century-style clothing, intentionally choosing muted blue, instead of bright and colorful clothing, for the doctor to highlight his humble profession. Some props, like a bland lamp in the doctor’s home, accentuated his humble social status, unlike the original script, which depicted a luxurious lamp that brightly illuminated the household, she said.
Sun said the production will also include audience interaction to immerse the audience members in the ongoing conflict between Stockmann and his people. In one scene, the entire town gathers together to listen to Stockmann’s declarations. However, he is quickly portrayed as an enemy of the town, eventually leading them to vote on whether to permanently label him an enemy. During the voting process, actors will bring audience members to the stage and have them vote as well, effectively deciding the doctor’s fate, Sun said.
“If you hear people making speeches about truth, you hear it, but you don’t listen to it,” Sun said. “But if you’re a part of the voting process, if you’re supporting the doctor or supporting other people, that’s going to make a difference to you, to your thinking process, to how you experience this play.”
Even though the play takes place in the 19th century, Wang said it’s still relevant because on a daily basis, people face conflicts because of clashing ideologies and opinions. Sun said she hopes to show that despite differing opinions, neither one is necessarily the correct solution.
“We created this play to be more in a gray area. It’s not the doctor is white and all others are black; everyone is gray,” Sun said. “When (conflict) comes, are we holding our stand? Do we keep to our minority view?”