Friday, March 27, 2009

Stella Adler on the Stockman Brothers

Stella Adler (1901 - 1992) ran a celebrated Method Acting Conservatory for four decades. In her book Stella Adler on Ibsen, Strinberg and Chekov (Vintage Books, Random House reprint 2000) she praises Henrik Ibsen's work and the moral ambiguity of his play An Enemy of the People.

In the play, Dr. Thomas Stockman is pitted against his brother the Mayor. In some ways, Adler writes, Thomas is a typical Ibsen protagonist:

"In Ibsen, the hero is in conflict with the social and moral system that he lives under.... Ibsen laughed at what the middle class considered honorable. He attacked the institution of marriage. He was highly skeptical of standard ideals of family and friendship. He said they were all open to discussion."

In other ways he's very unusual:

"Most men in Ibsen are overprofessionalized. Competition and their need for success leave them nothing for the family. Ibsen lets the Doctor off the hook- he works all day but is with his sons at night, aware of them and his wife. It is the last happy family man in a realistic play. He is the portrait of an ideal man. Dr. Stockman is probably Ibsen's first and maybe only positive hero."

While his brother, Peter, is the antagonist, Adler argues that:

"Ibsen builds this very carefully. You do not. You right away see the Mayor as a villain. He is not the villain. Be very careful of that. He is simply practical. Ibsen gives you an absolutely valid argument of an official man who represents an official idea that is excellent."

At the same time, in Ibsen there are no true "heroes."

"Ibsen aims to trap you. He introduces you to a man who is good and you side with him. But in the second act you recognize that he isn't as good as you thought he was. Ibsen catches you by making the character both right and wrong... Perhaps, then, you go home with some other idea that belongs exclusively to you, to solve it for yourself. Ibsen seldom solves it for you."

Red Tape Theatre's adaptation of An Enemy of the People runs May 4-30, 2009.
Purchase tickets through our website.

Paul G. Miller
Season Dramaturge

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