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Theater Review: “Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People” at Theater J

The company collaborates with Georgetown University on the contemporary update of Ibsen’s drama.

Blair Bowers, Michael Tolaydo, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh in Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People. Photograph by Stan Barouh.

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.