One could say Theater J’s current production is drama about a whistle blower trying to protect his community from a dangerous water supply. And it is. But, it seems to me Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People is very much about community.
Due to the overlapping Washington Jewish Film Festival at Theater J’s 16th Street home, Boged needed a stage. Georgetown University agreed to serve as host so that the play could be produced in the intimate Gonda Theatre in Georgetown’s Davis Center for the Performing Arts.
Prior to the Theater J premiere, Boged went through extensive development at Baltimore’s CenterStage and at the University of North Carolina. Also partnering with Theater J on the production is the StreetSigns Center, an award-winning professional performing arts and educational center based in Chatham County, North Carolina. The center’s co-artistic director, Joseph Megel, is the director of Boged.
Not only is this production of Boged the result of the artistic and educational communities coming together, the play itself is about a community in crisis. In this accessible, tightly constructed single act play, the writers have taken the plot from Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and successfully transposed it into the Israel of today.
In Ibsen’s 1882 play, Dr. Thomas Stockman tries to warn his town of contaminated water in the luxurious spas and healing springs that are supposed to bring prosperity. Stockman’s brother, the mayor of the town, publicly denounces Thomas and the entire town turns on him. An Enemy of the People showed a popular man ripped to shreds in the court of public opinion.
In Gaon and Erez’s new play, the popular man is now branded traitor, or “boged.”
Set in the Negev desert near Beersheva, Israel, Dr. Tommy Doany (the excellent Michael Tolaydo) is the inspector for the industrial park providing jobs and hope for a town on the edge of the desert. Tommy’s findings are troubling and keep multiplying. Due to increased production in the factories, waste water from the industry cannot evaporate fast enough and chemicals are polluting the town’s aquifer. Tommy’s single-minded concern is that not only will the town’s water supply be tainted, but the entire region’s water supply could be affected. Not really seeking attention, he thinks he will be deemed a hero by the town council.
Tommy’s brother should help, too, so he thinks. Simon (Brian Hemmingsen, in a commanding performance) is the mayor of the town who sees dollar signs everywhere and fears a potential public relations nightmare if Tommy goes public with his claims of tainted water. Simon would also rather wait until after his reelection to go public with any hints of danger about the water supply.
The core of Boged is the conflict between Tommy and Simon, which Tolaydo and Hemmingsen handle compellingly. Tommy is quietly defiant about his desire to bring the truth to light, while Simon will stop at nothing to protect his place as mayor and the profits the industrial park can reap for the town. The contrast between Tolaydo’s passionate doctor and Hemmingsen’s complex mayor is as stark as it is believable.
Into the struggle between the Doany brothers walks Moddy Eckstein, the powerful head of Eckstein Industries, one of Israel’s largest (fictional) industrial companies. Moddy (a masterful Sarah Marshall) presents herself as Tommy’s most powerful ally, at first. So does the media, represented by a plucky newspaper man, Yehuda (Clark Young), and an up-and-coming TV reporter, Yair (Mark Halpern).
Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People
Closes February 3, 2013
Davis Performing Arts Center
37th St NW & O St NW
on the campus of Georgetown University
1 hour, 45 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $45 – $60
Wednesdays thru Sundays
By the end, it seems no one is who they claim to be, except for Tommy and his devoted wife and daughter. (Nadia Mahdi and Blair Bower lend strong support in their respective roles as Katy and Yarden.)
He ends up in a world where one voice shouting in the wilderness is often the loudest of all. Tommy, we find, is the least boged of all. In the play’s final moments, even as he is called out as a traitor, Dr. Doany stands tall as the true enemies of the people look on in silence. It is a powerful moment and a lingering message to ponder.
Joseph Megel’s direction for Boged emphasizes quick pacing and unfussy stage pictures; throughout the performance, the acting seemed authentic. The production elements also come together seamlessly: from the simple costumes by Frank Labovitz (who has been everywhere this season, it seems), effective lighting by Brian S. Allard, and the evocative sound design by Veronica J. Lancaster. As for the sets, without giving too much away, let me say that Robbie Hayes’ creative scenic design gives strong visual support for the play itself.
Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People by Boaz Gaon and Nir Erez. Based on the play by Henrik Ibsen. Directed by Joseph Megel. Featuring Blair Bowers (Yarden ), Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (Danny), Mark Halpern (Hoffman), Brian Hemmingsen (Simon), Timothy Hayes Lynch (Alex), Nadia Mahdi (Katy) Sarah Marshall (Moddy), Michael Tolaydo (Tommy), Clark Young (Yehuda). Design and Production: Robbie Hayes (Scenic), Frank Labovitz (Costumes), Brian S. Allard (Lights), Mariano Vales (Composer), Veronica J. Lancaster (Sound Designer)