Modern Relevance Throughout New Fortune Theatre’s Haunting ‘Public Enemy’

Nick Kennedy and Richard Baird (Photos courtesy of Bryan Baird.).

Nick Kennedy and Richard Baird (Photos courtesy of Bryan Baird.).

New Fortune Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Richard Baird, is no stranger to being featured in plays by revered Norwegian writer, Henrik Ibsen. His resume includes performing in North Coast Repertory Theatre’s productions of Ghosts and Hedda Gabler as well as a version of A Doll’s House from The Old Globe. He is currently acting and directing a fantastic adaptation of An Enemy of the People, retitled Public Enemy.

Set in the present, a passionate scientist, Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Baird) lives a happy life and is close with his family and friends. Thomas tells his loved ones that he discovered horrifying news that the local spa baths are filled with poisonous bacteria.

While the scientist wants to reveal the disturbing information to the public, he soon realizes that his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann (Nick Kennedy) doesn’t want Thomas’ discovery to be known by others. Peter believes that the news will cause less tourism in the community, which will lead to dire financial consequences.

Condensing Ibsen’s 1882 epic into a lean 90-minute runtime, translator, David Harrower, moves through events at a swift pace. He keeps the suspense level high, as Thomas faces rapidly growing conflicts, because of his findings. Despite the tenseness, there is plenty of humor in each scene, which is a good balance from the serious situations that occur onstage.

Richard Baird and Danny Campbell.

Richard Baird and Danny Campbell.

Ibsen and Harrower add nuance with a complex relationship between the polar opposite brothers. Thomas is clearly correct in his views and Peter is definitely the antagonist, yet the former makes selfish choices that can potentially jeopardize him and his family, and the latter brings up several good points as to why shutting down the spa will result in long-term problems.

As a storyteller, Baird makes Ibsen’s tale exciting to watch at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. He helps create a festive and rousing atmosphere early on, but it does not take much time for the mood to become unnerving. The artist stages the first half of the evening in a traditionally theatrical manner, and takes a big turn in the second half with an immersive sequence at a town meeting. During the meeting, theatergoers are forced to think about modern issues involving politics, global emergencies with unsettling parallels between the Covid-19 pandemic and public opinions.

Baird is phenomenal onstage in every section of the drama, and he handles Thomas’ extended speech at the town meeting with just the right amount of anger and wit. In supporting roles, Kennedy, Amanda Schaar, Trevor Cruse, Danny Campbell, Neil McDonald, Walter Murray and Kimberly Weinberger portray individual that are important to the scientist. Although Thomas is the focus of the various events, each of the thespians hold their own.

Through his direction and star turn, Baird shows why Ibsen’s plot continues to be a relevant commentary on heavy social issues. Public Enemy is a memorable rendition of a suspenseful classic.

View the program online.

Show time is tonight at 7:00 pm.

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Photo of New Fortune Theatre Company
New Fortune Theatre Company
Contact: Amanda Schaar
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