Section: Arts

An Enemy of the People encourages community dialogue

An Enemy of the People encourages community dialogue

Doerries in discussion | BRITTANY LIN

Bryan Doerries ’98 co-founded Theater of War Productions in 2009 with a specific goal in mind. “We present readings and performances of seminal texts to create the conditions for dialogue about challenging and sometimes divisive, hard-to-discuss issues,” he told the audience gathered in Oden Auditorium on Sunday afternoon. It was the second of two staged readings of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play An Enemy of the People, which Doerries himself adapted and directed. The first performance was staged the previous night at the Knox Memorial Theater in Mount Vernon.

The original version of An Enemy of the People is a lengthy play. Its five acts tell the story of Thomas Stockmann, a doctor in a small Norwegian town who discovers that the local water supply is contaminated. When Stockmann tries to alert the community to this crisis, he is scapegoated and shunned. Doerries’ adaptation features only the third and fourth acts of the play, which depict the doctor’s decision to call a town meeting about the contamination and the meeting itself, where Stockmann is shouted down by the townspeople.

The cast featured a diverse array of figures, ranging from professional actors (David Strathairn of “Nomadland”) to Mount Vernon public officials (Mayor Matthew T. Starr) to a Kenyon student (Osose Omofomah ’26) — there was even a cameo from President Julie Kornfeld. However, the official performers were far from the only participants. During the scene of the town meeting, the audience was encouraged to take on the role of local attendees, shouting their opinions and heckling the doctor. Omofomah praised this element of the production in an email to the Collegian: “I thought it was really intriguing to observe the audience’s reactions change and evolve as the play wore on.”

After the performance concluded, the actors were replaced by a group of five panelists, with different community members composing the Saturday and Sunday panels. Each panelist briefly introduced themselves and shared their thoughts on An Enemy of the People’s modern-day relevance. Following these statements, Doerries turned the discussion over to the audience. Both in-person and Zoom attendees took turns asking questions and sharing their own insights about the play.

One topic that was clearly on everyone’s mind was public health. In a post-pandemic world, the town folks’ scapegoating of the doctor reminded audience members of COVID-19 denialism. They also discussed a variety of social issues, including access to clean drinking water and breakdown of democracy. “I’ve seen this three times now, and what struck me today was mob rule,” one attendee said. “It’s so terrifying, and we’re seeing it today in this country.”

This was just one of the many passionate testimonials that audience members shared. The panelists responded to each person thoughtfully, so even though the topics of discussion were serious, the dialogue session felt positive and productive. “I really enjoyed being a part of such a visceral and powerful experience for everyone involved, including the other actors on the panel and the audience who were constantly challenging us in our performances,” Omofomah reflected.Although An Enemy of the People’s protagonist may not have succeeded in his mission to save the town, Doerries certainly succeeded in his mission to create community dialogue.

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