Review: "An Enemy of the People" seeks to unite friends

By now, the memories of the immediate aftermath of the January 9 chemical spill into the Elk River are well on their way to fading.

It's June. While the grocery stores are still doing a brisk business with jugs of distilled water, most people are back to washing and cleaning just as they did before. The ice cubes in the freezer probably came from out of the tap and no one is watering their garden with Dasani.

Without any sort of reminding, the memory will fade further — unless it happens again and then the same conversations, the same arguments will arise.

The New Brooklyn Theater's presentation of Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" aims to keep the conversation about the water contamination in January going so that maybe people work toward a lasting solution now instead of later.

To help do that, Thursday night, the theater troupe, augmented by a handful of local, amateur actors, presented a story on a makeshift, floating stage just off the banks of the Kanawha River. The play would seem to familiar to residents: a local water supply is discovered to be contaminated. The water is dangerous, likely expensive to clean up and probably devastating to the struggling, local economy.

The action of the play, in a lot of ways, mirrored what happened in Charleston, with not everyone agreeing on the best course of action to take for the greater good and not every solution being entirely wrong.

"An Enemy of the People" was a good refresher in what happened earlier this year and a reminder that the solution might not be complete. There's still work for everyone to do to protect the things that matter, like clean water.

As a piece of theater, it was an unusual presentation for Charleston. The outdoor setting on the river made it more raw, if not exactly more real. As the action on the stage took place, empty coal barges chugged past, a family took their motorboat out using the boat landing and a train roared through.

Still, the river location did emphasize the scope of what was affected in January and just how prevalent water is in everyone's life. It's everywhere. We're surrounded by it, even when we don't see it.

The actors were earnest in their performances, though not necessarily all that polished — probably some extra opening night jitters for the amateurs in the group. There were some halts and mumbled lines here and there, but they managed to acquit themselves pretty well — good enough to get the job done and make their point.

There were a few laughs, too. Jeff Strabone, who adapted Ibsen's three-hour play down to an hour, left room for the audience to breathe. 

And while a play like "An Enemy of the People" isn't really first and foremost a piece of entertainment, but a think-piece, it wasn't a bad way to while away a gentle summer evening.

"An Enemy of the People" will be shown Thursday through Sunday over the next three weeks. For more information about the play, visit the New Brooklyn Theater's website at

Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.

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