As the Texas heat starts to set in Second Thought Theatre hits us with a scorching world premiere of ENEMIES/PEOPLE by Dallas-based playwright and professor Blake Hackler. An impressive jump from the hauntingly personal and powerful Empathitrax to the wall-breaking openness and staunch truth of Hackler's take on Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. Here is Gadi Elkon's reaction to the contemporary take on a political button pushing play.
"Tom, an intrepid urban planner, suspects that a new city-sponsored hot springs project may be more dangerous than the local government is willing to admit. But when Tom speaks out against the project, he is met with resistance from several unexpected sources. The divide between right and wrong proves to be anything but black and white, and Tom finds himself risking everything for a town that doesn’t seem to want his help. Second Thought continues its commitment to local playwrights with this thrilling world premiere play, written by Blake Hackler (The Necessities) and directed by Kara-Lynn Vaeni. Loosely adapted from Ibsen’s classic political drama, An Enemy of the People, and starring STT Artistic Director Alex Organ, Enemies/People is a timely world-premiere about the search for truth in the age of alternative facts." From STT Website.
From the beginning Writer Blake Hackler and Director Kara-Lynn Vaeni breakdown our notions of the details. As the play begins we see it transform itself into something new and different by changing the facts among the story. This interesting break is a constant theme you feel throughout the production. The way in which the characters test their outer wall to the audience helps link the players to the viewers. As the Stockman clan tests its own breaking points we are treated to some terrific quarreling and battling. If anything Blake Hackler's play is a thought provoker that screams for a rebuttal or approval. The key battles are husband/wife, friendship/work, brother/brother, white/Hispanic, right/wrong, and truth/truth. As these relationships splinter and come apart the more truth we witness of where this journey is going. Sprinkled into the visual display are some fun pokes at our local surroundings. There is even a fun Harvard/Yale joke that is an obvious nod to the abundance of Yale grads connected to this production. You'll no doubt enjoy the quick intelligent banter that keeps the darkest moments still humorous and slightly uplifting. As we the audience see the full unraveling from ACT I to II we are allowed a rather open ability to take stock on all we've witnessed. It's this choice element that really makes this play hit it's inferno moment and not disappoint.
The wonderful stage we leer upon highlights the mess of the writer's mind (think shit ton of paper everywhere) and tight squares of truth that reflect the concrete ideas that push the sides to battle over. The STT team rotates duties and always seem to showcase a new vibrant vantage point or setting. There isn't a spectacular feel about the staging of Enemies/People but rather that the tidy mess is something we can almost engage with and touch. It allows for the actors to slowly encounter the audience with new points of view. I especially love the second half of the production allows the actors moments to literally engage us. Alex Organ (Tom Stockman) especially has the eye stare element down perfectly. SMU grad Sasha Maya Ada (Billie) seems to be the kid in the candy store of the group. You grow to relish her off-beat "younger" views that spark forth at any moment. That youthful vibrancy is mirrored in the performance from Jovane Caamano (Michael) though his impactful role leads him into a unique journey. Gregory Lush and Christie Vela both steal their scenes as they push the boundaries of their fun characters Peter Stockman and Mercedes. Vela has her moment of explosion and the fun humor of even the rolling of the r of her last name not being a necessity makes her so much fun to watch. But the real slow-building connection that simmers throughout the entire play is our husband/wife story. Allison Pistorius and Alex Organ as married Kat and Tom Stockman really fit nicely. Ironically their physicality is in contrast to their situation. See how disconnected they are at the beginning compared to the end and you'll fully realize the ramifications of what their fiery struggle has lead to. Both actors really have a nice kinship that I personally have adored since they worked with each other in CONSTELLATIONS a few seasons ago.
Enemies/People is the perfect pinch of sizzle needed to amp up your already hot summer. Second Thought Theatre continues to push the limits and in this instance the turmoil leads to a hell of a thought-provoking truth-seeker of a production. Seems also fitting to have this play lead up to your annual 4th of July celebration. Nothing like enjoying the freedoms gained through the American Revolution like loudly speaking of facts and non-facts of our current climate. If you don't go I'll have Alex come stare you down till you do move.
Enemies/People through July 7th at Bryant Hall.