Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gender Swapping the Stockmans

In Henrik Ibsen’s original An Enemy of the People there are two female roles: Dr. Stockman’s free-thinking daughter Petra and his long-suffering wife Katherine. They lack influence in Ibsen’s society and are relegated to the roles of cheerleader and confidante respectively. Both are punished for the Dr’s defiance of authority and remind him what he stands to lose. Red Tape Theatre’s contemporary adaptation flips the genders of five key characters including the protagonist, Dr. Stockman, placing her against women and men of influence in the town.

Two other productions recently experimented with the gender politics of the work.

In 2007 Strawberry Theatre Workshop in Seattle produced Arthur Miller’s adaptation of the script but swapped the roles of Katherine and Thomas making her the Doctor and him the loyal “househusband.”
"Women began to earn medical degrees in Europe in the early 1700s. And a female whistle-blower who can't get men to listen to her entreaties? That isn't much of a stretch." ~ Misha Berson, The Seattle Times.
"Amy Fleetwood brings something new and invigorating to this traditionally male role; with her piercing blue eyes and surging spiritual energy, her portrayal tips the familiar on its head, injecting Ibsen's portrait of moral outrage with a transformative dose of humanizing charm and understated feminist fury." ~ Richard Morin, Seattle Weekly.

Strawberry’s production left the text virtually unchanged. A more radical rewrite occurred in 2006 at the Rinkogun Theatre Company in Japan.

"Set in modern Japan, the classic play from 1882 was fully recognisable, save for a few modifications. Among Tokyo’s neon lights and skyscrapers, the originally masculine main character Dr. Stockman had become a woman… Nora [from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House] wanted to help her sick husband, just as Dr. Sudo wishes to help her painter husband suffering from mental problems. When Dr. Sudo wants to open an “onsen,” the townspeople and Dr. Sudo’s sister, the town mayor, thoroughly support her. Tests reveal however that the spring water is bacteria-infested." ~ Ibsen in Japan
"Nowadays, in Japan, many of the leaders of citizens' campaigns are women, and also the leader of the Social Democratic Party has been a woman for a while. So it was necessary to change it to a heroine to be in tune with the modern day." ~ Director/Adaptor Yoji Sakate, The Japan Times

Sakate found the work more than relevant in the contemporary setting.

“Well, if you look at current society in Japan, for example the scandal over forged documents regarding the earthquake resistance of new buildings, or the scandals over financial corruption that happen every day and everywhere, these lies routinely pass by with hardly any fuss…”

In other words, political corruption never goes out of style.

Red Tape’s production of Enemy of the People runs May 4-30, 2009.
Tickets are available through our website!

Paul G. Miller
Season Dramaturge

No comments: