Through gender bending, Merely Players revise fall show

Lead actress Rachel Messbauer ’16 plays Dr. Stockmann, a role originally designed for a man, Merely Players’ fall show. The director and cast will present an exciting twist on Henrik Ibsen’s classical play. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Lead actress Rachel Messbauer ’16 plays Dr. Stockmann, a role originally designed for a man, Merely Players’ fall show. The director and cast will present an exciting twist on Henrik Ibsen’s classical play. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Lead actress Rachel Messbauer ’16 plays Dr. Stockmann, a role originally designed for a man, Merely Players’ fall show. The director and cast will present an exciting twist on Henrik Ibsen’s classical play. Photo By: Sam Pianello

Merely Players, a student-run theater organization, will bring their gender-bending adaption of Henrik Ibsen’s play, “An Enemy of the People” to life on the Mug floor. The show premieres on Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. and will have performances through Dec. 6.

Cassie Stirpe ’15 is the stage manager for the production, wrote in an emailed statement, “An Enemy of the People is the story of Dr. Theresa Stockmann and her town, where Dr. Stockmann makes a discovery that threatens not only some of the town authorities, but the livelihood of many of its people. The show follows the aftermath of that discovery—how she handles it, and how the town reacts.”

Director of “An Enemy of the People” Zachary Boylan ’16 commented on the main plot of the show from a different angle. “‘An Enemy of the People’ is a play about a person who tries to make a positive difference but is then ostracized by the people they are trying to protect. It is one woman’s journey from hero to pariah,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

The preparation for this show began a couple months ago, and now members of the cast and production team are taking their final steps in preparation before presenting the show. Stirpe wrote about the process, “It’s been great watching the show progress–and seeing how much more the actors have to offer each time we run a scene. Each time the actors take the next step–going off-book, getting in costume–the energy intensifies, and that’s been fantastic to see.”

Stirpe continued, “One of the things I most love is watching how everyone builds off of one another, and how everything just keeps growing… suddenly all of the work we’ve been doing for the past couple of months is coming together.”

Rachel Messbauer ’16, the lead actress in the show, plays Dr. Stockmann and wrote in an emailed statement about the progression of the show. “Because our show is opening so late in the semester, we’ve had the time to develop ourselves not only as characters, but also as a cohesive cast. Before we even began rehearsing scenes, we spent time reading through the script and clarifying backstories and relationships between characters, making choices about things that the author doesn’t tell us.”

She added, “We also had rehearsals entirely dedicated to movement and acting on impulses; those rehearsals were great opportunities for us to develop a sense of trust among the cast.”

In terms of goals for the show, the cast and crew are hoping to convey dramatic, but relatable themes to the audience with “An Enemy of the People.”

Jacob Sowder ’18, an actor in the show playing Aslaksen, wrote in an emailed statement about his interpretation of the main themes of the drama. He wrote, “It’s a show about truth, democracy and power.”

Boylan elaborated on Sowder’s idea of the motifs he has been trying to create as the director, adding, “The main theme I am trying to get across is that people often refuse to accept the truth when it contradicts with your personal interests.”

Messbauer had another perspective on the show, “One of the major themes of the play is that there is no ‘good’ and ‘evil’–even those who we might want to believe are in the right can show themselves to be less than perfect, and, on the flip side, even those people that we want to demonize can have some justification for their actions.”

Apart from the more indirect audience engagement the cast and crew are trying to achieve through dramatic themes and messages, there will also be some physical audience participation. Stirpe wrote, “I also think the audience is going to have an amazing experience in Act 4, which is designed to really bring them into the world and make them feel like a part of the action.”

Messbauer commented on another aspect of the show which she is excited about, “One unique thing that we’ve done with this show is gender-bend the cast—the Doctor is usually a man. I think having Doctor Stockmann be a woman adds an extra layer to the play: It highlights how women in the sciences must often struggle to be taken seriously.”

As the cast of “An Enemy of the People” has been finalizing the show during their last few days of tech week, they are looking forward to presenting Vassar with their drama.

The director played with idea of gender-bending to make a point not only about the discrimination of female scientists, but also as a nod to more contemporary family values. Boylan wrote, “I decided to gender bend it because I also wanted to make a commentary about women scientists not being taken seriously. Also if left in, although historically accurate, the relationship between the doctor and his wife is problematic in a modern setting.”

Although this interesting choice of switching Dr. Stockmann’s gender will be a refreshing twist to the classic play, it has also presented some challenges to Messbauer, who plays the part.

She commented, “It’s been a challenge in certain ways, because the play was written with certain rigid gender roles and gender stereotypes intended for Dr. Stockmann and especially his wife. In order to maintain realism with the time period that the play is set in, we had to put some thought into how to explain the dynamic of a gender-bent Stockmann family. I think that making Dr Stockmann a woman makes the play much more relevant to today’s world and the difficulty [for] women in male-dominated work environments.”

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