By Matthew Waldrep
The GRCC Players presented “Paragon Springs” at Spectrum Theater, entertaining audiences with a witty drama and beckoning them to raise questions rather than draw conclusions.
“[Paragon Prings] doesn’t tell you what to believe, so much as it tells you to think about what you believe,” said Paragon Springs Director, Tom Kaechele. As GRCC’s Theater Program Director, Kaechele works with other staff and former students in a play selection committee to decide what plays the GRCC Players will perform. According to Kaechele, the plays chosen must meet the criteria of challenging students as well as presenting a thought provoking experience for audiences.
Playwright Steven Dietz wrote “Paragon Springs” as an American adaptation of the 1882 play by Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, titled “An Enemy of the People.” The play takes the audience back to the year 1926, in a fictional Midwestern town called Paragon Springs. The water that wells up from a natural spring, known as “The healing waters of Paragon Springs,” is the tiny town’s only viable source of revenue as a popular tourist attraction.
Amidst the town’s simple residents is Doctor Thomas Stockman (Henry Marcusse). After returning from an illuminating trip to an unnamed university, Dr. Stockman puts his newly discovered knowledge of microbial life to the test on the town’s “healing waters” only to discover that the water has been contaminated by bacteria. Before the reports of contamination are released to the public, the Doctor’s brother, the manipulative and scheming mayor of Paragon Springs, Peter Stockman (Ben Holton) attempts to thwart Dr. Stockman’s efforts. Self interest and capitalistic greed motivate the Mayor to keep the public in the dark about the health risks surrounding the water as the alarming information would surely cease tourist flow and bankrupt the town. The town’s only media source “The Sentinel,” a humble newspaper and radio broadcast, finds itself caught between the Stockman brothers’ battle for ‘the common good.’ However “The Sentinel’s” owner, the gin-soaked profiteer, Odegaard (Danny Orris), is easily subdued by Mayor Stockman’s efforts to keep the reports of contamination a secret from the public to ensure revenue for the town.
From the battle between the Stockman brothers, the theme of polarizing moral dilemmas trickles down to the sub-plots of other characters. From the “The Sentinel’s” two reporters, brothers Lars and Erik Hovstad (Aaron Krouse and Kyle VanDyke) whose conflicting values threaten their bond, to the crumbling marriage of the town’s humble laborers, Rose and Hollis Lindgren (Cass Fortin and Carl Bolthouse), there is no character whose dimensions don’t serve to thicken the already convoluted plot. This complex and thought provoking story-telling is what makes “Paragon Springs” so enduring.
“Basically, the play is asking people to think about the personal costs of standing up for something you believe in,” Kaechele said.
While the play is set in 1926, the themes associated with greed and corruption versus public health and safety, and how ‘wistle-blowers’ are often looked down upon, are still as relevant today as they have ever been.
The GRCC players’ performance was invariant and all actors pulled their character’s weight to create a flowing and graceful theatrical experience. Early in the play some of the actors rushed lines and dialogue, but as the show progressed character interaction quickly became more fluid and engaging. Blocking and stage direction seemed slightly closed off from the audience at times except when it was absolutely necessary. However, overall the actors’ performances effectively communicated the underlying themes of the story and moral crises of the characters.