The truth is fluid in Strollers’ “Paragon Springs”
Post by Christian Neuhaus on 9/26/2012 9:05am
Strollers Theatre opens its 2012 - 2013 season with Paragon Springs, a drama with equally resonant personal and political dimensions.
The play’s title comes from its setting, a small Wisconsin town in 1926 whose economy is built on the tourism from its healing waters. Town resident Dr. Thomas Stockman discovers that the water essential to the town’s livelihood is actually “a cauldron of disease,” a discovery that initially receives the town’s gratitude.
However, as the disastrous ramifications of the discovery become evident, the townspeople become much less willing to accept the truth presented by Dr. Stockman. (How much less? To give you an idea, Paragon Springs is based on a play by Henrik Ibsen called An Enemy of the People.)
The first act sets the pieces in motion, introducing Dr. Stockmann’s discovery, the initial enthusiastic reception, and the opposition by Dr. Stockman’s brother Peter, mayor of Paragon Springs. The second act provides interesting rhetorical stratagems as Mayor Stockman undertakes to convince the town to disregard his brother’s findings. The climax is a nighttime assembly on the outskirts of town in which the two brothers address the people, their voices carried by the new medium of radio.
Dr. Stockman doesn’t help his case with combative assertions that make remarks about “the 47%” appear as objectionable as mispronouncing the name of a local alderman. It’s a well-executed scene constructed by director Meghan Randolph — with the characters addressing the audience directly and eerie lighting by Phil Koenig, it engages the audience in a way that that’s uniquely suited to live theater.
Christopher Younggren as Dr. Stockman displays a vigorous, outta-my-way nobility that achieves an interesting dual effect of bringing in the audience while simultaneously putting us on guard. As Dr. Stockman’s wife Katrina, Kelly Fitzgerald’s presence provides vital emotional anchoring to Stockman’s crusading impulses. Paul Lorentz as Mayor Stockman exhibits an oratorical slyness that’s enjoyable to watch as he engages in his damage control campaign.
To lighten the mood along the way there are some entertaining moments from Donald Dexter as a garrulous old citizen whose contributions to the community include providing “clandestine refreshment.” Also enjoyable where the exchanges between Katrina and Widow Kroger (Mickey Crocker), ostentatious in dress and in manner.
The events of Paragon Springs illustrate how the personalities of those promoting a cause, self-interest, and majority opinion influence what one accepts as “the truth.” The authenticity and appeal of the performances made feel regretful about where the relationship between Dr. Stockman and his community ended up, but the ideas of the play remain worth examining and discussing well after the play’s conclusion.
Paragon Springs is at the Bartell Theatre until October 6. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with a 4 p.m. matinee on Saturday September 29. Former Assembly member and Sierra Club national board member Spencer Black will host a talkback following the performance on September 27, and Greg Hunolt, President of Wisconsin Antique Radio Club, will host a talkback following the matinee on the 29th. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and senior citizens) and the performance is two hours.
Christian Neuhaus is a writer whose comic short plays have been produced by local theater groups. You've Ruined a Perfectly Good Mystery!, a play he wrote with Dane101 contributor Rick Stemm, sold out its world-premiere run in Madison, was part of the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, and was voted Favorite Theater Production in Isthmus's 2011-2012 Madison's Favorites poll. In March 2011 his comic retelling of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Red-Headed League" was among the plays in Novel Ideas, performed by Actor's Factory. In March 2012 Christian was part of the first performance of Are We Delicious?, where the ensemble develops a set of eight short plays within a single week.