Play at Parks Street Mews
Being a first year, higher level IB theatre students, one can imagine my elation when being offered tickets to go see a play performed by my peers at, ‘Elizabeth Moir’, titled, “An Enemy of the State” by Henrik Ibsens.
I was excited for two reasons. The first was predominately because this is the first play that I would be seeing live as a DP student. Over the years, out of the three art subjects, I have always felt this innate connection to theatre; to putting on a show, to manipulating facets of myself to create this fictional façade, and create compilations of stories and characters. Thus, as an attempt to satiate my captivation with plays, over the years I have pleaded my parents to take me to plays during the holidays. Every location we visited, the first bullet point on my agenda would be to visit a local theatre. I wanted to canvass a variety of styles and themes, to further educate myself on the subject of ‘Theatre’ as whole, given that I always knew that this is something that I would want to pursue in my last years as a high school student. However, when making up the audience in the plays that I watched prior to this year, I realized that I always viewed them, as an everyday theatre fanatic and not as a critical theatre reviewer. For example, I never questioned why they used the blue spotlight on the secondary character, that happened to be standing center stage right, but appreciated the emotions that it evoked and the overarching atmosphere that the lighting created. Thus, with my arsenal of practical and physical knowledge, which was explored further in class, I was ready to critically review this play as more than a member of the audience, and was excited for it be a hotspot in which I can source inspiration from, for my future works.
The second reason as to why I was elated beyond means was because it was performed, not by highly experienced actors and actresses, but by fellow peers with a similar collection of skill and knowledge. I also felt a subliminal feeling of competitiveness, possibly fostered by the spirited environment of my school, and this feeling led to remind myself to compare between OSC’s theatre troop and that of Moir’s. However, in the hours that followed, I knew that I should perceive this experience as more of a learning opportunity than an occasion that fostered unnecessary animosity between our schools. Thus, I walked in with an open-minded ready to absorb any vision and stimulus for my future works, from this wonderful and holistic experience.
Just hours before opening curtain, I was quite tempted to read about the play; it’s premise, background on the author, the author’s incentive, the societal and political connections it has, it links to post-modernist adaptations on the original story. However, I managed to abstain from investigating the premise of the play and hoped to gain an unfiltered and untainted, first hand perspective on the performance
I realized that this was the first time I was walking into a live performance, encompassing just as much knowledge as the person sitting next to me. As I walked in with my fellow Theatre students, I attempted to carry in my pre-conceived notions and judgements of the title, “An enemy of the state” and the director’s unique choice of location; a remnant of a Colonial Era stable, currently and rather ironically called ‘Stables’. Although I refrained from researching, I analyzed the title. I imagined a play centered on secret service and espionage, and perhaps a plot following the story of Snowden, but my thought process was immediate disrupted once I saw the set design. What I thought was going to be a stage mimicking the inside of the Pentagon, was a simple living room design in a 90’s style. The subtle hints and the intricate detailing on the props connoted a westernized living spaced, embroidered by plastic tubes that were framing the set. My internal set design was immediately wiped clean and as I sat down in the third row, directly facing the stage, the house lights went off and music began to play. I was restless. However, more importantly, I was intrigued.
After watching the play, I had two very contrasting feelings. I was incredibly impressed with the level of skill and the very spectacle of the performance, however on the other hand, I realized that I had a few issues with the execution of the production. I tried to convince myself to just be appreciative and silence my criticism, like every other member of the audience, but my theatrical mindset overrode my initial choice to leave it be, and immediately began to think of alternate artistic decisions that the director could have made to better the performance.
It was refreshing to confer with my fellow classmates, and listen to their point of views. I found that there was a stark contrast in what they expected to see, and in actuality, what they experienced. I felt that we came to a similar consensus in terms of our expectations prior to watching the performance, as most of us were bracing for a spy-like and mystery riddled plot. However, we realized how wrong we were as the play actually centered on a family; the three main characters being brothers; an engineer, a doctor and a lawyer. The play follows the story of a town that sources its water supply from a river, that neighbors a factory. As the play progresses, the audience learns that the reason for the townsfolk getting sick is primarily due to the toxins entering the water through the factory’s sewage tunnels. From the start of the play, the audience is introduced to the tension – filled and awkward relationship that the three brothers share, with the lawyer and engineer resonating a superior, savior-complex towards their younger brother, who is the doctor. It is soon shown that doctor learns that the factory is damaging the water supply and shares his finding with his brothers, who immediately reject his theories and accuses him of causing unrest within the people. Unhappy with their response, the doctor soon announces it to the town, where he receives an even more negative response, with some people even going so far as to take drastic measures of throwing rocks at the doctor and cursing him for causing unrest. For weeks, thereafter, the doctor, his wife and children are continuously attacked and harassed, thus triggering his wife to almost leaving him. The play ends with the doctor ends with being branded an ‘enemy of the state’, after being put up for trial for causing civil unrest.
I was impressed with how all elements of production, lights, sound … etc, did not take away from the essence of the play by distracting the audience but in fact contributed to the depth of the message. I was awestruck to observe how all elements perfectly complemented each other, to complete the atmosphere and emotion evoked within the play. However, being the Stanislavski fanatic that I am, I felt that the science fiction and more modern elements that the director chose to include were a bit off-putting and did not quite fit well in 90’s American dynamic.
Overall, I am immensely grateful for this opportunity as I was able to not only grow and learn as a theatre student but was able to link this experience to my pool of performances, that I could later refer to. I felt so much of myself mirrored through the performance, as the realism and the 90’s culture that the play alluded really harmonized to my style of theatre, absent the sci-fi facets of the play. Furthermore, this experience has also inspired me to do something of a similar nature with my fellow theatre students, as a way of showcasing our skills and years of knowledge. This experience has also got me attuned to theatre scene in Colombo and I hope to see more plays in the future.