Chicago Theaters Present a Dramatic Portrayal of Lead Contamination Unleashed

Two Chicago theatre companies—A Red Orchid and the Goodman-- are having their say about the EPA’s changes in pollution regulations, curtailing of pollution monitoring, and weakening of the Clean Water Act. Both dramas are adaptations of Henrik Ibsen’s late 19th century play “An Enemy of the People,” in which the Norwegian town’s Public Health Springs have become contaminated but the town doesn’t want to clean up the problem because of the high cost and the loss of tourism.

Brett Neveu’s play, “Traitor” at A Red Orchid theatre centers around a small town in Illinois in which lead has been found in the soil near a school and has affected the children but the town says the clean-up is too expensive. The story reflects a real life drama that continues to play out in East Chicago, Indiana, slightly East of Neveu’s location, where lead was found in the soil under the houses and the nearby school of the residents of the West Calumet housing development. It has taken 25 years for the city of East Chicago to begin to clean up the area despite it being designated a Superfund site in 1993. In 2016 all of the affected residents were told to move and the school was closed. Interestingly, Neveu’s adaptation credits the discovery of the problem to a teacher who notices the number of lethargic students in his classroom. In East Chicago, the effect of the students’ probable increase of lead levels in their blood and the probable consequences of this has not been reported.

Robert Falls’ adaptation at the Goodman Theatre maintains the Norwegian location. However, it is almost impossible to ignore the similarity between Ibsen’s reference to contaminated water and the contaminated water found in Flint, Michigan, where the Goodman has already supported one adaptation of Ibsen’s play, entitled “Public Enemy: Flint,” by Purni Morrell which was presented at a Flint, Michigan, Gymnasium this past summer.

A review of Traitor, the play at A Red Orchid Theatre can be read on my Feb. 28 blog. An interview with the Red Orchid playwright of Traitor, Brett Neveu, appears in my February 22 blog.

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    Carolyn Boiarsky

    " I am an American," but not "Chicago born" like Augie March. Only Chicago aged. I'd like to think that if Henry Louis Gates were to investigate my geneology, he would discover in my past three women who traveled around the globe, chronicling their adventures. Sarah Kemble Knight traveled 112 miles by carriage from Boston to New York in 1704, a journey most women did not embark on alone (and men did so only with some trepidation). In fact, women were only just beginning to exercise their independence in the 1920's when Emily Kimbrough took off with her friend, Cornelia Otis Skinner, to explore Europe. But it is Auntie Mame, transforming herself from a New Yorker to the wife of an Austrian Baron and climbing the Matterhorn, whose mantra I have adopted. "LIFE IS A BANQUET...LIVE!" I began travelling in the 1960's when I traveled around western Europe between graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and my first job as a statehouse correspondent for UPI (United Press International) in Charleston, West Virginia, which was about as foreign a place as Europe was to someone who grew up in the environs of Philadelphia. Since then, I've also traveled to Kaunas, Lithuania, to teach at Vytautus Magnus University and to Sheffield, England, to present a paper at an engineering conference. I've been to the Alps and seen Auntie Mame's Matterhorn while climbing, by a series of cable cars rather than by foot, toward the peak of Mont Blanc. For 10 years my husband and I traveled to unique places: a sheep farm during lambing season in England's Lake Country, a hotel on one of the Barromeo Islands in the middle of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, and a cottage in Dun Quin on the Dingle Peninsula which the Irish claim is the last parish before Boston. Between excursions, I'm a professor in the Department of English at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana,. My husband passed away recently and, Auntie Mame-style, I am in the process of transforming myself. I've joined a tour to Central Asia and traveled to China to work with the pandas. Two years ago, I returned to Europe--Inreland, England, and France--to present a paper at a Conference and then visit friends. It's 2017 now and London once again draws me in. This time I'm fulfilling my dream of taking my grandchildren to Europe. I've rented a flat near Hyde Park and ordered London passes for everyone. A new adventure. Old friends. Another banquet.

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