THE GREAT DIVIDE at Shotgun will stimulate conversation

Dinner at the Stockmann residence. Featuring (L to R): Louisa Frasconi, Heather Robison, Samuel Berston, Michaela Greeley, Scott McCloud, Scott Phillips. Photo by Pak Han

THE GREAT DIVIDE: Inspired by Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. By Adam Chanzit directed by Mina Morita. The Shotgun Players, The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Street, Berkeley, CA. 510-841-6500 or May 16 - June 17, 2012


Late in Adam Chanzit’s problematic drama The Great Divide a major character poses the question, “Is bust better boom?” It is a reverse rhetorical question that would seem to make sense but overlooks the human price paid for a booming economy. The play is Shotgun’s recent attempt at cultural relevance and it mostly works but still feels like a play in progress.

Adam Chanzit in conjunction with director Mina Morita has spent two years putting the play together and the subject matter is extremely relevant on many levels. In our present generation of increasing demand for sources of energy, a process called “fracking” is the latest method of extracting natural gas from deep within the earth. Up to one million gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure deep below the surface to break apart (fracture) the rock layer which allows natural gas to escape through a pipeline. The process is controversial due to contaminants leaking into the water supply.

Such a process has been going on in a Western town bringing prosperity to the area. New homes are being built, local economy is prospering and the area can support a local college. The workers and residents are becoming sick and a local flock of goats have has been decimated by declining birth rates. Suspicions are that the fault lies with water contamination from the fracking and questions arise of what is to be done about it.

Not only has the author taken inspiration from Ibsen’s play The Enemy of the People, he has also usurped the names of the characters. In this story, Dr. Katherine Stockmann (Heather Robinson) is a woman who has strong altruistic motivation. Her husband Tom (Edward McCloud), college age daughter Petra (Luisa Frasconi) and young son Morten (Samuel Berston)have returned to their homestead after an extended stay administering to the underprivileged in South America. That experience had a demoralizing ending and the family has returned to physically and mentally recuperate.

Hovstad (Ryan Tasker) a writer for a local paper is working on an expose’ of possible relationship between the increasing number of residents becoming ill and the lack of regulations or governmental oversight into the drilling practices. He is being aided by Petra who is considering giving up college to continue working with him. Katherine’s brother Peter (Scott Phillips) is the mayor of the town and defends the actions of the drilling company.

Because of her medical knowledge Katherine is involuntarily enmeshed in the ongoing controversy and uncovers fairly strong evidence of the cause and effect of the increasing number of residents becoming ill. The ensuing discoveries divide individuals, families, townspeople and the town turns en-mass against Dr. Stockmann as the enemy of the people. An ethnic element is injected by author Chanzit adding Hispanic Rita (Sarita Ocon) into the mix. Closing down the drilling would be devastating to the Hispanic Community.

The lines are drawn and act two is a blockbuster starting with a town meeting with the audience rising to pledge allegiance to the flag before all hell breaks lose. In this scene the actors are speaking directly to the audience as if they are in attendance at the meeting. It is a very effective device and the aftermath of decision by the company to leave is anticlimactic but emotionally moving. It is Peter who challenges his sister Katherine forcing her to decide the merits of a booming economy or a busted one.

The large cast of 14 double and triple in minor roles and Mina Morita doesn’t quite separate their multiple characteristics. In the action scenes she takes a page from Jon Tracy’s physical directing style and it is effective. The spare multilevel wooden set allows her to keep the action fluid with a running time under two hours that includes an intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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