Production of ‘The Messenger’ is unsettling reminder of pandemic

Jan 19, 2022, 6:40 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 6:22 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A disease threatens lives and members of the press are reporting about it in different ways.  

Sound familiar? This story was written before the pandemic.

It is Pioneer Theatre Company’s world premiere of “The Messenger.” 

“I know there are a lot of whispers going around about the troubles with the baths and it’s important to tell you, right from the start, I’m the cause,” said Terese Stockman, the lead character and the town doctor.  

The setting is Norway in the late 19th century. Dr. Stockman discovers a disease in the baths, the source of that town’s economy. 

It is based on Henrik Ibsen’s play “An Enemy of the People” first produced in 1882. 

Jeff Talbott is the playwright. “And because Ibsen’s play begins with the spreading of a disease, the world began to resemble his play and my play and continues to, as of today, in ways that are unsettling.” 

In the play, Dr. Stockman speaks with her daughter. “People are afraid of what will happen if they stay.”  

Her daughter asks, “Is that true?” Her mother replies, “And what are you afraid of?” 

Talbott, who has both had another play produced at Pioneer Theatre Company and been cast in other productions, loves Ibsen and said he was inspired to write “The Messenger” before the pandemic.  

Jeff Talbott is the playwright of "The Messenger". "The Messenger" is based on Henrik Ibsen's play "An Enemy of the People" first produced in 1882

Is life imitating art or art imitating life? Talbott said, “It depends on the day! Sometimes it feels like one and the next day, it feels like the other!” 

The editor of the newspaper named ‘The Messenger’ is a friend of Dr. Stockman.  

“I have a trust to tell people the truth. I am the messenger, not the message!”  

This play also includes two town newspapers that present the disease crisis differently.  

“The polarization of us all, personally and politically, is echoed so strongly in the polarization of the lenses of our major media outlets,” said Talbott. “Where do you get your news? Where do you choose to get your news? And I wanted that to be at the center of this play, as well?” 

“I can write it anonymously, but one way or the other, it’s going in,” the editor says to the doctor.  

Talbott’s play poses questions to the audience about the public’s need to know and what their reaction will be if it does.  

The story of this world premiere may be timely but Talbott hopes it is more than that. “Really, the big question the play wants to ask – can we talk to each other? Can we just talk to each other? Because maybe we’ll be able to get through this altogether if we do. I feel like that’s a really valuable thing for a theatre to do.” 

The editor says to the doctor. “It’s not a crime to make money and it’s not a crime to run a business.”  

Jeff Talbott said he has heard audience members leaving the theatre talking to each other about the very difficult life situations we are facing right now. 

“The Messenger” performances continue at Pioneer Theatre Company at the University of Utah through January 29th. Ticket information can be found here. 

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Production of ‘The Messenger’ is unsettling reminder of pandemic