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‘Take the Play to the People’: About Water and Community

PHOTO: Jonathan Solari, director of a new production of "An Enemy Of The People" being staged on the river in downtown Charleston, says the point is to get people talking about water, community and politics. Photo credit: Dan Heyman.
PHOTO: Jonathan Solari, director of a new production of "An Enemy Of The People" being staged on the river in downtown Charleston, says the point is to get people talking about water, community and politics. Photo credit: Dan Heyman.
June 13, 2014

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – An unusual production of a play - on the river in downtown Charleston - is stirring the water and wants people to see. The New Brooklyn Theater company is staging an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People," on a stage built at a public dock.

The century-old play is about a doctor who finds his town's water has been polluted with a deadly chemical. Director Jonathan Solari, says they came to town specifically to prompt debate and dialogue. He says they want to talk about what's important to people, in a location central to those questions.

"In between where the Elk River feeds into the Kanawha and the state Capitol – depending on where your eyes as an audience member turn, we're in the middle of everything," says Solari.

The Freedom Industries chemical spill stopped much of the state from being able to drink its tap water. The effects of that are still rippling though the legal and political systems.

Solari says one of the great strengths of live theater has always been that it engages people in the political and social landscapes where they live. And in this case, he says, they can connect with people – and the land and water itself.

"If we can do anything to get more people to feel some kind of ownership of the land that we're performing on, then we've succeeded a little bit," he says.

He explains they are actually using the river water in the production, and making reference to the landmarks from the stage. That kind of staging actually has an old tradition. As far back as the ancient Greeks, theater was part of everyday life and politics, not separate from them.

In similar fashion, Solari says, they want to break down that artificial divide by taking the play into the community.

"At the most basic level, it's easier to get people to the theater if we're not in a theater."

The show runs the next three weekends at the public dock next to the Frontier Building on MacCorkle Avenue - Thursdays through Sundays, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV