Bringing Ibsen to Israel results in a sense of urgency and modern relevance for Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People. Boaz Gaon and Nir Erez have kept the characters, themes, and major events of Henrik Ibsen’s original work, but the new setting, fresh dialogue, and contemporary sensibility of Boged, originally produced by Israel’s Beersheva Theatre and now staged by Theater J in collaboration with Georgetown University, results in a significant—and successful—reworking of the classic.
The unapologetic Dr. Tommy Doany (Michael Tolaydo) is still facing off against both his politician brother, Simon (Brian Hemmingsen), and big corporations, in this case embodied by the looming Ekstein Industries (the show smartly starts off with a public relations video for Ekstein that feels like something BP might produce, broadcast on the minimalist set’s sleek window that doubles as a multimedia screen). One of Ekstein’s factories in the Southern Israeli desert has a chemical leak that could wreak havoc on the area’s water supply. It’s clear that this is bad news for the company and for the politicians who have supported them. But will the surrounding residents accept the news and take action at a time when the Arab Spring is fueling unrest and activism in general?
Not unlike Ibsen’s original, Boged has the tendency to be didactic, but the actors do a fine job of selling even the most heavy-handed of dialogue, directed most capably by Joseph Megel. The modern revisions of the characters are largely successful—the stakes for the struggling, idealistic reporter Yehuda (Clark Young) feel even higher in an age of dying print journalism; Ekstein CEO Moddy Ekstein (Sarah Marshall) can massage the press while half-distracted by her smartphone. Only Blair Bowers as Doany’s schoolteacher daughter, Yarden, proves a little grating in this edition (“Squeal!” she says, literally, when she hears news of her father’s discoveries). But she still serves an important purpose, channeling the sense of loss and missed opportunity that results when the likelihood of capitalizing on the nation’s brief potential for change seems bleak.
The imposing digital window is the main focal point of designer Robbie Hayes’s* set (which means a virtual rock, rather than an actual one, gets thrown at the Doany household by an angry mob; it’s a jarring, strange effect). Theater J’s fine cast extends from Nadia Mahdi as Katy, Tommy’s elegant and cautious wife, to Mark Halpern as Yair, a morally conflicted television producer who’d be at home on the set of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. Hemmingsen and Tolaydo prove to be powerful adversaries as the events of Boged put further strain on their family connection. But the real scene stealer is Marshall, the colorful and ruthless businesswoman who treats blackmail as a game, laughs at idealism, and manipulates idealistic scientists, Russian ex-pats, and Christian Texas billionaires with equal ease and amusement.
Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People runs through February 3 at Georgetown University’s Davis Performing Arts Center. Running time is about an hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($35 to $60) are available via Theater J’s website.
*This post has been updated from a previous version.