SOU Professor Dennis Smith works with Levi Goodman (Lawrence Hovstad) during a rehearsal of “An Enemy of the People.” - Jamie Lusch

Downstage at Southern Oregon University

Adaptations of two plays bring timeless themes to Southern Oregon University's Center Square and Center Stage theaters this fall.

A new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People," written and directed by Theatre Arts Professor D.L. Smith, is set for the Center Square Theatre. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Nov. 6-8 and Nov. 13-15. Matinees are offered at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 15-16.

"Enemy" tells the story of Dr. Thomas Stockmann, a man who struggles to stand for his desires and beliefs as he is compromised by society. Some say the protagonist represents Ibsen's own voice and that Ibsen wrote "Enemy" in response to public criticism of his plays "A Doll's House" and "Ghost," which both challenged the mores of Victorian society.

Smith's recast of Ibsen's 1882 drama sets Stockman (Smith removed the second 'n') in contemporary society, far from the Norwegian playwright's homeland.

"My adaptation sets the story in present-day Napa Valley," Smith says. "I chose the setting because of its accessibility. Ibsen was going for a place that was idyllic, pastoral, so I looked for a place that I think audiences would perceive as a nice place to live."

Smith says that he decided to pursue this new translation because of its themes of corporate greed, pollution, responsibility and political deception.

"What resonates with me is that these topics are still every bit as relevant as they were in 1882," Smith says. "And that is tragic."

There are other translations of "Enemy" out there, Smith says. Arthur Miller's adaptation that opened in 1950 on Broadway is probably the most familiar. In Ibsen's story, Stockmann is thwarted by the mayor and news media during his attempt to redress the contamination of the public baths in his town.

"In reading the translations of the original text, I had trouble with Stockmann's character," Smith says. "First of all I didn't like the way Ibsen talked to women, or the relationship that Stockmann had with his wife. In his pursuit of what he thought was right, I found him to be pedantic and strident. That didn't mean he was wrong, but he dealt with everyone in terms of absolutes.

"Once we get into those absolutes, Stockmann becomes quite unsympathetic," Smith says. "He loses sight of the danger that he is trying to alert the town to and becomes egocentric. I believe Ibsen meant the character to become egocentric, and it is that hubris that is his flaw."

"An Enemy of the People" is based on a serious idea, but Ibsen wrote to his publisher that he was uncertain whether to call it a comedy or a straight drama.

"I'd call it a drama," Smith says. "Hopefully, there are a couple of moments that are amusing, but that doesn't change the tenor of the play."

In the cast of SOU students, Chris Carwithen plays Stockman; Deborah Jensen plays Kate Stockman; Alex Yochim plays Mayor Peter Stockman; Greg Land plays newspaper reporter Alexander Billings; Levi Goodman plays publisher Lawrence Hovstad; and Nick Walker plays businessman Perry Aslaksen.

"Carwithen is pretty wonderful. He's making Stockman very human and compelling," Smith says.

Yochim's role as Mayor Stockman is the culminating project for his bachelor of fine arts degree. Set design is by Andrew Zehrung; costume design is by Katherine Nowacki; lighting design is by Laura Wiley; and sound design is by Chris Sackett.

Christopher Fry's adaptation of Jean Anouilh's "Ring Round the Moon," to be directed by David Kelly of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is set for SOU's Center Stage Theatre.

Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Nov. 13-15 and Nov. 20-22. Matinees will be offered at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 22-23.

Anouilh's "Ring Round the Moon" first appeared in 1947 as "L'Invitation au Chateau" in France and is a parody of the upper class. Fry adapted a translation of "L'Invitation au Château" as "Ring Round the Moon" in 1950 for director Peter Brook, a British film and theater director.

The play may seem like a romance that borders on farce, but it is pointedly critical of the aristocracy of its time. It is also pertinent in today's social structure, says Kelly in a press release. Somehow the wealthy survive and even profit during dire circumstances such as 1933 Europe and 2008 America.

Sam Ashdown plays Hugo; Monique Barbee plays Isabelle; Ashleigh Bragg, Madame Desmortes; Danielle Chaves, Isabelle's mother; Robert Chikar, Messerschmann; Jonathan Dyrud, Romainville; Nicholas Ferrucci, Patrice Bombelles; James O'Hanlon, Joshua. Ashdown's role is the culminating project for his bachelor of fine arts degree.

Scenic design is by Sean O'Skea; costume design is by Deborah Rosenberg; lighting design is by Maxwell Bowman; and sound design is by Stephen Abts.

Tickets to all of the SOU plays cost $18 general, $16 for seniors and $5 for students. Patrons who subscribe to three or more plays will receive discounted rates. Tickets are available at the door or by calling the SOU Theatre Arts Box Office at 552-6348. More information is available at sou.edu/theatre/calendar.

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