Theatre Gigante’s adaptation of Enemy of the People covers a tremendous amount of ground in allegory. Isabelle Kralj has put together a really tightly-focused, little ensemble for their adaptation of Ibsen’s classic. At the center of it all is a doctor played by Emmitt Morgans. Morgans’ journey as the doctor is a fascinating one that takes him from being a simple consultant with an idea to being something far better and then...far worse in the eyes of the people.
At the opening of the story, Morgans is consulting with the mayor of a small town (played with seedy, duplicitous officiousness by David Flores.) The mayor suggests using a local water source to bottle natural spring water, but Morgans suggests something much more substantial: a health spa which could promote a tourist economy in the town. The mayor approves and the musical proceeds. At this stage, Morgans could have been playing a minor, supporting character--just a casual guy with an idea that happens launch the plot on its course.
As plans for the spa develop, the doctor suggests drawing water for the spa from a pure place that turns out to be cost prohibitive to the mayor, who has the final say. Lacking any real power, the doctor must relent to the wishes of the mayor. Here Morgans is still playing someone who could have theoretically ended-up as a minor character in a much larger plot.
The spa opens and everyone is celebrating. Somewhere in the background in and amidst it all, Morgans stands a a counter regarding a few test tubes. Having done some rather official-looking sciencey-stuff in the background, he addresses the people of the town (represented by a very energetic ensemble.) Sadly, the water is being drawn from a toxic source and the entire spa may have to be shut down for quite some time in order to protect people. Here Morgans is playing the doctor as a hero everyone respects. Things get complicated from there. The doctor’s fortunes reverse when he brings the health hazard to the attention of Flores’ corrupt mayor.
Morgans cleverly treads the path of a man who shifts from some minor character in the background to prominence as a hero, then an activist and a vilified scapegoat for the bad decisions of others. Kralj has framed the journey of the hero with remarkable complexity for a tiny allegorical musical. What starts-off as a desire to help others shifts into a self-defining journey as well. And though the doctor is not without his own arrogance, the negative side of the character is a slight shadow around the edges of someone who really IS extremely selfless and willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of the public.
Morgans brings clever nuance to a role that could have easily played as more of a gleaming heroic altruist. He’s aided at a crucial moment by a cleverly-written Jason Powell song. The doctor is consulting with the people about the dangers of environmental hazards of the spa. They are grateful for his interest in the public health, happily praising him as a hero. In the course of the song, Morgans is allowed brief flashes of pride which grow into open acceptance of the hero label even as he shies away from it. It’s a tricky balancing act to portray a character tacitly accepting adulation that he is openly shying away from. More than simply showing subtlety, Morgans allows the moment to be a major turning point in the personality of the character without making it overwhelmingly obvious that he is doing so. The doctor’s rise to prominence casts a shadow over everything that he does from that moment on. Powell gives Morgans just enough space to play to a few different angles of heroism in remarkably clever moment in a provocative look at the politics of survival in an increasingly complex world.
Theatre Gigante’s Enemy of the People runs through Feb. 16 at Kenilworth 508 Theatre on 1925 East Kenilworth Place. For ticket reservations and more, visit Theatre Gigante online. A more complete and concise review of the show runs in this week's Shepherd-Express.