Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ibsen's gifts thrown into the mud

In the play An Enemy of the People, (1882) Henrik Ibsen's protagonist, Dr. Stockman, delivers a polarizing lecture to the citizens of his town outlining their faults. At a recent workshop of Red Tape's adaptation this lecture was analyzed from many angles. Ibsen could be very shy until provoked, and delivered a few harsh truths of his own.

In Michael Meyer's fascinating biography, Ibsen (1967) an incident is described that merits attention. In 1878 Ibsen resided in Rome where he spent many days at the Scandinavian Club. He proposed that a woman be allowed to apply for the position of club librarian and that they vote on all club matters. The first request was accepted, the second failed by one vote. Gunnar Heiberg, who attended the clubs subsequent Gala writes that Ibsen rose before the crowd to lecture them on their failings.

Ibsen "had wished to do the club a service, he might almost say a great favor, by bringing its members abreast with contemporary ideas. No one could escape these mighty developments. Not even here - in this community - in this duckpond! He did not actually use the word duckpond but the contempt around his mouth proclaimed it loudly. And how had his offer been received? As a criminal attempt! Rejected by a paltry couple of votes. And how had the women reacted - the women for whom his gift had been intended? They had intrigued and agitated against him. They had thrown his gift into the mud. What kind of women are these? They were worse - worse than the dregs, worse than scum... Thump! A lady, Countess B., fell to the floor."

As Ibsen's speech continued his anger grew, shaking his head and thrusting out his underlip. When he was done he left in silence.

Ibsen clung to ideals of human conduct that he could not achieve in his life. He struggled between his desires for society and isolation as the world failed to live up to his moral code. He shared these struggles with many of his characters including the mighty Dr. Stockman. Red Tape looks forward to exploring these ideals as we adapt the work to a contemporary setting.

An Enemy of the People performs May 4-30, 2009.
Tickets will be on sale at

Paul G. Miller
Season Dramaturge

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