Tanghalang Ateneo's "An Enemy of the the People"

The Enemy Wears Floral Prints 
By Walter Ang
July 12, 2004
Philippine Daily Inquirer

When Dr. Thomas Stockmann discovers that the waters from the spa of his native town are poisoned, he urges the town officials to close down the resort. When the citizens realize such a decision could drive them into economic ruin, the doctor becomes "An Enemy of the People."

I drank coffee to prepare for this play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. I wanted to make sure I could stay awake as I expected a drab, dark, brooding production. I assumed the characters would wear black turtlenecks and round spectacles while dishing out kilometric discourse on sociopolitcs. This is an Ibsen play, after all!

In Tanghalang Ateneo's staging, I realized I should have drank piƱa colada instead when I was led to my seat by a torch-carrying usher dressed in a loud red Hawaiian shirt. In quite an ingenious move, director Ricky Abad and production designer Gino Gonzales take off from the resort discussed (but never actually seen) in the play and uses it as the visual motif of the production. Gonzales bedecks the stage with a wall imprinted with a collage of tropical birds and foliage. Along this predominantly red wall are several doors from which the cast enter and exit while dressed in beachwear that explode with colors.

The loud floral prints and brightly hued sarongs set the tone for the action onstage. Abad complements the vibrant energy of the production design with equally dynamic direction. His cast does not converse with each other simply standing in place or seated by a table, instead they traverse the length of the Rizal Mini-Theater stage. The high-octane movements mirror the characters' passion for their beliefs.

Two actors in particular imbue their roles with broiling vigor. Yan Yuzon plays the titular character Dr. Stockmann and Neil De Mesa is major antagonist Mayor Stockmann, the doctor's brother. The tandem pulls off their characters with aplomb: Yuzon creates a doctor full of impassioned rage, while De Mesa fills the Mayor with seething resentment and anger. Yuzon's hot, fiery disposition juxtaposed with De Mesa's cool, steely demeanor makes for captivating sibling rivalry scenes.

Discourse on sociopolitics was present, but Abad incorporates entertaining devices to move the action along. Actors face the audience instead of each other when certain lines are emphasized. Intimate arguments between Dr. Stockmann and Mayor Stockmann transform into one-on-one basketball games. If you're not sure who's winning the fight, just check to see who gets the ball.

Bells and whistles
Just like the canned laughtrack we hear on television sitcoms, key statements by the characters are punctuated by bells, whistles and special lighting. Reggae music like Bob Marley's "Get up, stand up" aptly underscores the scenes.

Characters are given slapstick asides and funny quirks to add humor. Mrs. Aslaksen and Hovstad, two characters who represent the fluctuating principles of local journalism, are given great hammed-up characterizations by Shermaine Barlaan and AJ Constantino, respectively. The cute factor was provided by Elmo Magalona, son of lunchtime TV variety show host Francis Magalona, as the doctor's son Ejlif.

Do not be misled, however, by the seemingly light treatment of the material. The audience takes the ride only to skid into a dark and chilling ending when Dr. Stockmann must face the consequences of upholding his beliefs. At the wake of the recent (unconcluded as of yet) national elections, the revved up actions onstage will hopefully lead audiences to assess how they deal with issues of power and influence, truth and lies, principles and persuasion.

The fun of watching this timely production was tempered only by two students seated behind me who prattled on and on the whole night and a student in front of me who actually made a call on his cellphone. Professors really should make it a point to discuss theater etiquette with students before requiring them en masse to watch a show. And if enduring noisy students wasn't enough, the restroom closest to the theater was locked, forcing the audience to walk long lengths before they could find relief. It's enough to make one wonder: who's the real enemy here?

Tanghalang Ateneo restages Enemy to open its 26th season beginning July 1. Call 0916701-7563 or 0917205-5943.