Excellent Production of AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE at PlayMakers Rep

I don’t know whether to be more relieved or depressed by the acute timeliness of PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of An Enemy of the People. On the one hand, Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 script tells us that people in power have acted against common sense and the public good at least since then, and Arthur Miller’s 1950 update makes it clear that the problems were the same in his era–in other words, our time, though out of joint, with its spyware and its science-deniers and its ghastly secret fracking chemicals and its brave, unworldly warriors like Edward Snowden, is not anomalous in history. On the other, humanity has not made much noticeable improvement in itself since Ibsen penned his blistering critique of the politics of power and money in the everlasting joust between the truth-armed individual and an obtuse majority.

The Ensemble (Allison Altman as Petra, Julia Gibson as Mrs. Catherine Stockmann and Michael Bryan French as Dr. Stockmann, facing) in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE,  by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Arthur Miller. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

The Ensemble (Allison Altman as Petra, Julia Gibson as Mrs. Catherine Stockmann and Michael Bryan French as Dr. Stockmann, facing) in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Arthur Miller. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

 

Directed by Tom Quaintance, the PlayMakers company and guest artists give Enemy an intense immediacy, highlighted by the astute design choices (McKay Coble, set, and Patrick Holt, costumes) that place it in the 1950s, but also in the 2015  infatuated with “mid-century modern” and snap brim hats. Quaintance has paced the show for clarity and, without excess, for maximum wallop, allowing the excellent actors to work naturally in Ibsen’s and Miller’s tautly drawn situations in which their characters’ psychologies must be dissected. It’s the most satisfying show of the PRC’s 2014-15 season thus far.

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann, and Michael Bryan French as Dr. Stockmann, in PRC's AN EMEMY OF THE PEOPLE. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann, and Michael Bryan French as Dr. Stockmann, in PRC’s AN EMEMY OF THE PEOPLE. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

 

Briefly, the storyline is: Dr. Stockmann (Michael Bryan French, naive, flustered and implacable) has with his brother (naturally, it needs to be his brother) the Mayor, Peter Stockmann (Anthony Newfield, neurotic, politically skilled and implacable) have created a spa that’s bringing economic hope to their town. But after everything is built, the doctor discovers that the water is dangerously polluted. When the play opens, he’s just received the test results from the university, and he’s all set to tell the world, so that the healing spa waters won’t sicken anyone. The Mayor’s having none of that!

Julia Gibson and Michael Bryan French as Catherine and Dr. Stockmann. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

Julia Gibson and Michael Bryan French as Catherine and Dr. Stockmann. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

 

On hand to make the most of this conflict are a firebrand newspaper editor, Hovstad (Benjamin Curns) and a high-strung reporter (Gregory DeCandia) and their waffling editor, Aslaksen (Jeffrey Blair Cornell, just perfect) ready to twist in whatever way will benefit them the most. The doctor’s eccentric father-in-law, Morten Kiil (David Adamson, fiendishly good) bumbles around the edges, looking for the spot to drive in a wedge. The doctor does have a family who love and support and hector him–Julia Gibson as Katherine Stockmann and Allison Altman as their daughter Petra also keep the testosterone levels from becoming too overwhelming. All these excitable people in this little town are counterbalanced by the doctor’s friend, the taciturn sea captain Horster (Derrick Ivey), who’s been about the world and seen places where people weren’t allowed to speak their minds. He didn’t like that.

Ivey continues to amaze. Here he stands like granite, so dense he draws your eye again and again, even though he has only a handful of lines. His Captain Horster contains a vital paradox: He stands behind the doctor not because he understands anything he’s on about, but because he believes he is free to say it. Yet if that’s not the way it’s to be, he’ll morph from the stable to the flowing, and take them all to freedom in America. (That’s about the only thing in the play that seems dated, that belief in a bighearted, clear-thinking America.)

The production was slightly marred on opening night by some technical difficulties involving smoke and water, and maybe the mob could use a few more bodies (although John Allore, as the drunk, is a host in himself), but it’s a powerful play, powerfully done. It runs only through March 15 in the Paul Green Theater. Tickets online or call 919-962-7529.

You can read the play, with a good introduction by Arthur Miller, here.

Most readers will already know that PlayMakers has announced the forthcoming departure of company producing artistic director Joseph Haj this July, when he will leave Chapel Hill for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. If not, see Byron Wood’s Indyweek piece here. I’d hoped we’d get to keep Haj for a couple of more years–he’s been a very positive force for this theater scene, beyond transforming PlayMakers. See my 2010 feature on Haj for a sense of how far we’ve come, and how lucky the Twin Cites will be to have him there. Bye, Joe.

Now the question is–who will be the next PRC artistic director? And–when?

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Arthur Miller. February 25 - March 15, 2015. Directed by Tom Quaintance. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Arthur Miller. February 25 – March 15, 2015. Directed by Tom Quaintance. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, now fully in the Robert Battle Era

 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's  Alicia Graf Mack and Jamar Roberts. Photo:Andrew Eccles.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Alicia Graf Mack and Jamar Roberts. Photo:Andrew Eccles.

 

The Robert Battle era at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is in full swing. Battle has been  artistic director of the inimitable company since 2011, when he succeeded the sublime Judith Jamison, who succeeded Ailey himself. It’s a big job, to keep the fabulous style of the Ailey company intact while introducing new work by choreographers of different sensibilities. The careful progression of change has paid off: this year’s appearance by the company at Carolina Performing Arts shows the AAADT in thrilling form. There will be a second program tonight, Feb. 25, which as always, will close with the staple Revelations, but also will include two different works not danced last night. As of 9:30 this morning, the show is scheduled to go on, despite predictions of snow, but check the website later if you plan to go.

The program in Memorial Hall on Feb. 24 opened with a song-cycle work choreographed by Matthew Rushing. Odetta (2014) uses brief audio interview clips of the late great Odetta (1930-2008) judiciously mixed with several of her songs (written by various artists). In the manner of Revelations, Odetta is illustrative, sometimes quite literally, but compelling nonetheless, and the costuming by Dante Baylor is glorious. Led off  by the radiant Hope Boykin (from Durham, NC) with heart-bursting warmth and transportive whirls, the song cycle begins with “This Little Light of Mine.” One of the pleasures of AAADT’s annual appearance in Chapel Hill is that we can follow the dancers’ arcs. Boykin has been with the company since 2000, and in the intervening years we’ve seen her move from the back of the ensemble to front and center, her light shining more and more brightly.

Being of an age to have listened to a lot of Odetta (including up close and personal around the piano when Durham’s Carolina Theatre reopened after renovations), I found it thrilling to the point of tears that Rushing and the Ailey company are returning the spirit of Odetta to the stage. The song cycle goes on to include the almost-too-cute “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,”  but gets more serious after that, with “Motherless Children,” and moves on to a powerfully staged dance to Odessa’s  blistering version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” and some further explorations of ideas of freedom. I expect this piece will remain in the Ailey repertory.

The second piece on the 24th was the one that signaled Robert Battle’s assurance as artistic director. Suspended Women was choreographed in 2000 by Jacqulyn Buglisi and came into the Ailey repertory in 2014. Literal it is not. For 15 women and four men gorgeously costumed by A. Christina Giannini, it is set to the second movement (Adagio assai) of  Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, with “interpolations” by the brilliant Daniel Bernard Roumain (recorded music). The dance, under Clifton Taylor’s mysterious lighting, is spellbinding: etched with foreboding, crosshatched with travail, resistance and small victorious assertions of personal freedom. It’s one of those rare pieces that feels as if it started long ago and is going on forever offstage–we see a timeless scene through the proscenium window. This is communicated partly by a mesmerizing sequence that repeats throughout: relevé/demi-plié/relevé/torso twist/skirt swish/relevé… It’s worth going here to see images and a video clip. This dance will not be repeated tonight, but be on the lookout for an opportunity to see it.

Revelations, even after many viewings (I’ve lost count) remains compelling. This was, in fact, an unusually fine performance of the Ailey classic first performed in 1960. The dancing by Akua Noni Parker and Michael Jackson, Jr. of “Fix Me, Jesus” in particular was a study in emotional power and aesthetic perfection, and Matthew Rushing’s solo to “I Wanna Be Ready” radiated a stunning honesty. And of course, before we left, and before the company was allowed to leave the stage, everybody’s soul was rocked in the bosom of Abraham. Looking around the audience, I could see that race, creed, color, country of origin and gender preference make no difference. We all want to dance in the light of love.

Dancing Divine: Shantala Shivalingappa at Carolina Performing Arts

Shantala Shivalingappa. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

Shantala Shivalingappa. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

 

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to see a great deal of very fine dance of many types in my life, including a variety of Indian classical dance. But rarely have I seen a program of any kind as exquisite as that given in Memorial Hall by Kuchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa….

Slender crescents of light cradled her dark form, and then one beautiful hand emerged into a cone of brilliance and began its story. It was like being present at the beginning of the world, and when the dancer came fully into the light wrapped in saffron silk heavy with gold, the only suitable response was reverence…”

MY REVIEW OF THE FEBRUARY 18, 2015 PERFORMANCE WAS PUBLISHED BY CVNC.ORG. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE.

Linda Frye Burnham

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