- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

Henrik Ibsen’s hold on America — make that Washington — never has been stronger than now, with the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s version at the Lansburgh of “An Enemy of the People” marking the 100th anniversary of the Norwegian playwright’s death.

Considering the timeless, and at times eerily contemporary, political barbs that suffuse this classic, Tuesday’s opening-night patrons were remarkably upbeat. Politically savvy attendees at the pre-show dinner at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center included District Council members Carol Schwartz andDavid Catania and District Chief Financial OfficerNatwar Ghandi as well as National Endowment for the Arts Chair Dana Gioia.

“Another season, can you believe it?” was the cheery greeting of Shakespeare Managing Director Nicholas Goldsborough at a pre-show dinner in the Reagan Building. “It’s an important year,” he said in reference to the company’s new Penn Quarter stage, the Sidney Harman Hall, debuting in October 2007.

The play does have a special resonance here, admitted director Kjetil Bang-Hansen, who said privately “You feel it in the response of the actors.” Ibsen’s play highlights “the conflict between the individual and social responsibility, something we all share within ourselves,” pronounced the man who is believed to be the first Norwegian of stature to direct Ibsen on this side of the ocean.

Norway’s farseeing Ambassador Knut Vollebaek, who had urged Shakespeare Theatre Artistic Director Michael Kahn to bring over Mr. Bang-Hansen for the production, reminded the dinner audience that although Ibsen never visited America, his son Sigurd Ibsen, a future Norwegian prime minister, was a junior diplomat in Washington in 1886 and 1887. The younger Ibsen, writing from the Metropolitan Club, was a chronicler of sorts about people and places, writing that he was “not very impressed with this city,” apart from the heat.

“There are no places for entertainment in this city, except for some theatres that I have been advised against visiting,” the son told his father in his report.

“Something definitely has changed,” Mr. Vollebaek concluded with a salute to his host company’s attainments.

Others of note attending opening night of the season included arts patron Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will preside over a mock trial next month using Shakespeare’s plays to explore the American legal system.

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