Notes from the Dramaturg
Arthur Miller seems the most perfect playwright to translate the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen for the American stage. Both men were deeply concerned with societal issues, specifically, the role of the individual in society, and the tension and interplay between one person and the group. AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE was written in 1882 and concerned one man's vision of a particular situation in his town in juxtaposition of the majority's view of things. Seventy years later, Miller found himself facing the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy as they sought to sniff out anyone with Communist affiliations. Along with a few other brave artists (Lillian Hellman, Zero Mostel among others) Miller refused to answer their questions. He saw the terrifying erosion of basic American values and refused to be intimidated. He stood up against enormous public and political pressures. It took great courage to do that in the Fifties. THE CRUCIBLE, one of Miller's most notable plays, was a thinly veiled re-telling of the Salem witchcraft trials as a warning against the tyranny of the majority.
Miller belonged to a group of theater artists known as Stage For Action. This group arose from the Federal Theatre Project that had come into existence with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. SFA was committed to performing work about pressing issues that affected the masses and promoting a liberal political agenda.
And why this play now? Doctor Stockmann, Ibsen's central character, has an opinion about his town's mineral springs. Are the waters beneficial, as the town believes, or are they a menace? Do the waters have curative powers, or will they make people sick? The doctor thinks he knows the answer. He is convinced.
The townspeople are planning on financial security from the onset of tourists coming to partake of the springs and they are equally convinced. How to resolve this dilemma?
In Albany today, the studies pile up regarding hydro-fracking in our immediate neighborhood, in the Marcellus Shale. Politicians line themselves up on opposing sides. Some studies demonstrate the benefits, others the liabilities. The monetary benefits to those folks who lease their lands are huge. But are there serious health risks? and are those 'potential' risks immediate, long term or trumped up? A similar battle is raging in our nation's capitol---The Keystone XL oil pipeline project, will it bring jobs and prosperity, or will it foul the nation's air and water? Who to believe? There are imposing studies on either side. And the money is tempting. And the nation needs jobs.
If Doctor Stockmann were in Ithaca today, he'd surely be effectively and actively lobbying against the hydro-fracking industry because of the risks it presents. But many local landowners are in support and signing leases that are financially tempting.
Perhaps our play can illuminate the issues from the safe distance of 1882 Norway. Perhaps a play can aid the conversation, illuminate the issues from a different point of view and provide clarity. Arthur Miller and Henrik Ibsen believed in the power of theatre, the live theatrical event, to stimulate important discussions and to help people make up their minds. Please enjoy our production, and remember, it's only a play. . .