Cohesive Contrasts: A Closer Look at McKay Coble’s Scenic Design for An Enemy of the People

An  early sketch of McKay’s design.

An Enemy of the People takes place in a Norwegian town circa 1950. McKay Coble‘s scenic design puts the audience directly in this specific setting by utilizing contrasts between a stark, industrial water feature and an inviting family home.

In order to reflect the action of the play, her design incorporates muted greys alongside brighter colors to symbolize the pessimistic versus the optimistic. On one hand there’s the idealistic Dr. Stockmann, morally prepared to do the right thing. On the other is his brother, Peter, repressing the truth for the sake of money and self-interest.

McKay explains, “There’s this nugget of idealism with Dr. Stockmann and his family, which I’ve tried to portray as a sunny, warm, cohesive environment where everything fits together. Their comfortable home contrasts with a grey outside world that threatens to fall apart at any moment.”

The Stockmanns’ charming 1950s home. Photo by Curtis Brown.

McKay’s aim is to create a space in which truth can unfold. Her detailed design allows the actors to discover their reality. And, as always, she’s gone above and beyond, fine tuning to be accurate to the time period and support the work of the ensemble onstage.

Look for childhood photos of cast members adapted to fit the era, and notepads, not left blank, but filled with stories to keep the actors engaged in their craft! Details like this are indicative of McKay’s meticulous approach to design and her ability to give the actors a realistic space to create, discover, and live in the moment.

Some truly remarkable elements of McKay’s scenic design are the set transforms as plot and characters evolve. A monumental transition occurs when the Stockmanns’ cozy living room fades into the background and a newspaper office rises to become the focal point. This transition parallels the shift of public opinion away from Dr. Stockmann and in favor of his conniving but impeccably dressed brother, Peter.

The transition from the Stockmann home to the newspaper office. Pictured: Benjamin Curns and Gregory DeCandia. Photo by Curtis Brown.

The water feature surrounding the Stockmanns’ home proves to be a stand-out piece of the production. Because water is so integral to the plot, McKay felt it was a necessity to the scenic design. And the moat-like segment of the set is not just there for looks, it serves an important purpose. When the action shifts away from the Stockmanns’ home to the office of the town newspaper water begins to fall from piping in the ceiling, changing the mood of the play from happy-go-lucky to ominous and eerie, causing the audience to question what’s to come.

Just as his brother, the newspaper, and the townspeople turn on Dr. Stockmann, so does the water. Following a one-sided debate, Dr. Stockmann is bombarded by an unsavory crowd that removes grates from the edge of the set, scoops water from the trough, and throws it in his face. This moment in the play serves as a snapshot of the troubles yet to come for the Stockmann family.

McKay felt the water could represent the truth that’s being kept hidden from the townspeople. She explained, “The truth could not be contained, just as the water could not be contained.”

The mob entering the Stockmann home. Photo by Curtis Brown.

The feasibility of destroying set pieces presented a challenge to McKay. Once Peter announces that Dr. Stockmann is to be labeled “an enemy of the people,” the unrelenting mob takes its aggression out on the Stockmann home. They enter with weapons, and when they’re done what was once the safe nest of this loving family appears leveled and torn apart. McKay’s design set the stage as the actors embody a whirlwind of destruction, creating a shocking scene that propels the story to climatic heights.

See McKay Coble‘s fantastic set for yourself. Book your tickets for An Enemy of the People – onstage through March 15!

Click here for more info or call our box office at 919.962.7529.