Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
February 10, 2012
You’ve got it all worked out – your plan, your dream. Maybe it’ll bring you money, or power, or esteem. But then, life comes along and whacks you in the face, bringing you to your knees. Whoever said that life was fair, the truth will set you free or there’s justice and equality for all?
Certainly not the writers of two dramatic classics: Lorraine Hansberry, who stunned Broadway in 1959 with her masterwork, “A Raisin in the Sun,” and Henrik Ibsen, in “An Enemy of the People,” his 1882 screed against governmental hypocrisy. Both plays remain piercingly relevant today.
In the 1950’s, Arthur Miller, our political conscience, Americanized Ibsen’s prescient work.
Set in a small town in coastal Maine, “The Enemy of the People” pits the doctor against the mayor, a brother who turns the media and the townspeople against his brother. The physician has detected poisonous bacteria in the water of the spa that is on track to make the town rich and famous. He is, admittedly, arrogant and aggressive, so certain of his rightness, so sure he’ll be lionized, that he endangers his family to make his truthful point. In the tradition of the tragic hero, Dr. Stockmann’s hubris brings him down.
It’s a searing drama, if a tad didactic and moralistic. But Intrepid Shakespeare Company gives the piece a compelling spin, centered by two potent performances: Matt Scott, riveting as the doctor, and Eric Poppick , reptilian as the Mayor.
The supporting cast is powerful as well. Co-directors Sean Cox and Christy Yael make excellent use of the spanking new, state-of-the-art theatre at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas, their homebase . With high ceilings and no miking , the sound was sometimes muffled on opening night. But the show is a thought-provoking winner.
Further south, at Moxie Theatre in Rolando, another family is shaking things up and getting shaken up. The Youngers, who have just come into some inheritance, will be the first African Americans to buy a house in a historically white Chicago neighborhood. They just want their piece of the American pie. But they’ll be made to eat humble pie instead.
Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson commands the stage as the family matriarch, whose children have formidable dreams of their own. As her son, filled with success fantasies and fury, Mark Christopher Lawrence fulminates, and nearly cracks. There’s a bit of edge missing in several of the other characters. The play feels a lot less incendiary than it should. But this is a solid production, excellently designed.
So, what’s the takeaway here? Stay in your place. Do what’s expected of you. And don’t step outside the bounds of so-called decency. That is, if you want to play it safe. But no one with any spine or imagination – onstage or off – should aim for safety instead of the stars.
“A Raisin in the Sun” runs through March 4 at Moxie Theatre near SDSU.
“An Enemy of the People” runs through February 19 in the Liggett Theatre at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas.
©2012 PAT LAUNER