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There’s drama in fight for clean water

Adding a dramatic flair to a hot button issue, Richard Walsh has adapted a classic play to reflect current problems, namely water contamination.

In Elmira, it is Chemtura. In Michigan, it is about the lead pipes. In Walkerton, it was about E.coli. And in An Enemy of the People, it is about the newly installed public baths.

Based on a story originally written by famed playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1882, Walsh has updated the content and tone of the play for modern audiences in Waterloo Region.

“It is very relevant, but was written nearly 140 years ago,” said Walsh. “It just seemed to be such a socially relevant play.”

He saw a different adaptation of the show in Toronto a few years ago, but noticed the production didn’t deal with Canadian issues. He enjoyed the play and set to a months-long rewrite, bringing the lessons taught in the content to local audiences. Walsh says the idea is to have the public become a bit more level-headed when it comes to dealing with contentious issues like the environment.

“It is not simply a play about rising the masses to deal with an environmental problem, it is not simply about being a whistleblower – it is about what happens to a whistleblower if they let their anger get in the way of constructive problem solving,” he said. “My adaptation essentially captures what Ibsen was doing in his original play, which is to show that in the middle of attempting to deal with an environmental crisis, our personal foibles can become activated and interfere with affective problem solving.”

Nadine Quehl as newspaper editor Eileen Hovstad and Richard Walsh (right) as publisher Fred Aslaksen look on as Ken Noakes as medical officer of health Thomas Stockmann pleads his case for making the water contamination report public on Walsh’s adaptation of An Enemy of the People.[Liz Bevan / The Observer]
Richard Walsh (right) as publisher Fred Aslaksen look on as Ken Noakes as medical officer of health Thomas Stockmann pleads his case for making the water contamination report public on Walsh’s adaptation of An Enemy of the People. [Liz Bevan / The Observer]
The recently retired Wilfrid Laurier University professor of psychology is no stranger to such issues, having been a candidate in municipal, provincial and federal elections, most recently running for the Green Party in last year’s federal vote.

His adaptation of An Enemy of the People tells the story of Dr. Stockmann, a public health officer-type and member of the local committee on the newly opened public baths. He discovers a contamination at the site, and begins the fight to have the information made public. He is met with opposition from the mayor, who is his brother, and many more public figures like the editor of the local newspaper.

“It is serving as a big tourist attraction that is bringing in lots of money to this former backwater community. The mayor and the business community are very happy about the booming local economy and don’t want to see anything infringe upon or decrease the largesse that they are enjoying,” said Walsh. “They are afraid that if there is a long delay in fixing the water contamination, that they will lose their economic advantage over other communities.”

Without giving away too much, the audience will also play a role in the production, weighing in on the issue, and will be given a chance to vote on a motion put forth at a public town hall meeting. Will the audience sway the mayor? Will they convince Dr. Stockmann to back down in his fight for what he sees as the truth?

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and can be purchased by calling the venue, Christ Lutheran Church (445 Anndale Rd., Waterloo) at 519-885-4050. The production will run for three nights at 8 p.m. from Nov. 10 to 12. There is some coarse language in the dialogue, and is not recommended for students Grade 7 and under.

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