A Lie Agreed Upon - The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI.



CHUCK: This is The Public’s Radio, I’m Chuck Hinman. Artscape producer James Baumgartner is with me this morning.

JAMES: Good morning Chuck. We went to the theatre this past weekend.

CHUCK: We did. We saw “A Lie Agreed Upon” at The Gamm Theatre. It was our first time back at a performance indoors.

JAMES: Yeah, and the Gamm is requiring all audience members to either be fully vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test. Audience, staff and volunteers have to wear a mask while inside the building. But the performers are not wearing masks.

CHUCK: Let’s get into the play. It’s an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” - first performed almost 140 years ago. This version was written by the Gamm’s artistic director Tony Estrella and takes place in more modern times. 

JAMES: It’s a fictional “Springfield U.S.A.” The set and costuming sort of look like 1980s small town coastal Maine. 

CHUCK: A new hot springs spa is about to open up in Springfield and the people in town are excited for the tourism dollars it will bring. Doctor Thomas Stockman has the spa water tested and the results show that it is contaminated with harmful bacteria that will make people sick and might even kill them.

JAMES: Doctor Stockman’s brother Peter is the mayor of Springfield and is not happy to hear about the test results. It will cost millions of dollars to fix the problem. Millions of dollars the town does not have.

CHUCK: And this is the main conflict of the play - the doctor has the facts, the science - the water is toxic. The mayor is concerned about how much it will cost and the effect on the economy.

JAMES: Then the local newspaper gets involved, at first they’re on the doctor’s side, the side of science and the facts. But after the mayor speaks with them, they flip sides.

CHUCK: Speaking as a journalist, I was a little dismayed at how quickly they flipped But I do like how this play draws parallels to today’s issues: environmental concerns like climate change or COVID and how people resist what experts are telling them.

JAMES: And that gets into another issue - the perils of democracy and majority rule. The doctor calls a public meeting, hoping to get the facts in front of the townspeople so they can “make an informed decision.” But the meeting turns into a mob scene--kind of like the public backlash we’ve seen about mask mandates or vaccines.

CHUCK: The more the townspeople turn against him, the more strident the doctor becomes until he basically calls them all stupid, and they accuse him of being an elitist.

JAMES: Sean McGonaghy plays the doctor as a loving father, and servant of public health, but his nuanced performance shows us the doctor’s temper and ego as well. In a more simple play, he would be the hero. But by the end of this one, we’re not so sure. 

CHUCK: And the title of the play leaves you thinking. “A Lie Agreed Upon” - what is the lie, who is agreeing to it and why? I might have to go back and see this play again. 

JAMES: It’s definitely a play that left me thinking.