SEQUIM — Into this town “where water is wealth” — so goes the Irrigation Festival slogan — comes “Paragon Springs,” a story about healing waters suddenly, mysteriously poisoned.
In swoops the chief medical officer, Dr. Thomas Stockman, bent on finding out the truth behind this tragedy. Around him, the townspeople scurry, contending with all manner of social issues.
“Paragon Springs,” playwright Steven Dietz’s tale of small-town life, capitalism and greed, opens tonight at Olympic Theatre Arts, 414 N. Sequim Ave., and unfolds over the next three weekends. It’s a tragedy and a comedy based on Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” and set in 1926, amid the birth of radio and the final roar of the 1920s.
As soon as actor Colby Thomas laid eyes on the “Springs” script, he was hooked.
“It has a little bit of everything — comedy, drama, extended aquatic sequences — and an interesting overall theme,” said Thomas.
He portrays Lars Hovstad, a young man making the transition from a newspaper job into a radio broadcasting career.
“Springs” is “so dramatically different than many other shows produced in the area,” Thomas added.
The show’s social and political themes, its wrangling with water and stronger drinks — they make this one rich, he said. “Springs” will “not only make an audience think but entertain them thoroughly,” said Thomas.
Early on in the story, Lars is trying to persuade his brother Erik (Jeremiah Paulsen) that radio is the next big thing. Erik, editor of the Paragon Springs newspaper the Sentinel, is skeptical.
Standing at the microphone, Lars seeks to paint him a picture.
“A newspaper is a polite little thing, waitin’ out on your front step like your kind old Aunt Martha,” he tells his brother.
But “the radio is the rudest thing that man’s come up with yet, and now that loud, rude homewreckin’ thing is squarely in our hands.”
Paulsen, like Thomas, finds the “Springs” story an unusual one for the local theater scene. He was drawn in by the challenge of playing Erik, whom he calls a “sensitive hothead.”
The play’s best moments come, Paulsen added, when the townspeople’s relationships come to the fore.
“The connections are spot on and genuine,” he said. “It’s fun to really feel it and know the people watching feel it too.”
One of those relationships is between Erik and Rose, his former sweetheart who is now married to someone else.
“When I read Rose’s part, I loved it,” said Danielle Chamberlain, who was invited to audition for the role.
“She is such a strong character and, even though she can be tough sometimes, she really cares for the people around her. I also loved the love drama going on between her and Erik and Hollis,” her husband.
“My favorite part of the play is when I get to be tough. I throw things back in people’s faces a lot,” like reminding her neighbors that her brothers died in the war, or reminding the dreamers of the town that just dreams will take them nowhere.
But there’s comic relief, Chamberlain added: Odegaard, the city’s printer and bootlegger played by Jeff Marks, has a lot of juicy lines.
“I love the party scene,” in which Odegaard offers Mayor Peter Stockman (Bob Willis) some alcohol.
“Hair of the dog? Oil of the snake? Toe of the turtle? Sweat of the goat?” he invites.
Meanwhile, said Chamberlain, “everyone is kind of shying back, trying not to get caught.”
“Paragon Springs” is a highly political story, she added, but it’s also about family, love and loss. The story has just enough laughter, and “really heartfelt moments.”
The show’s cast, led by director Roger Briggs and assistant director Sharon Briggs, also includes Gary McLaughlin as Dr. Thomas Stockman; B.J. Kavanaugh as his wife Katrina; Lily Carignan as their daughter Lorna; Richard Lord as Hollis; and Sharon DelaBarre as the eccentric Widow Kroger.
As is the custom at Olympic Theatre Arts, tonight’s opening includes a champagne reception at 6:30, followed by curtain time at 7:30. The rest of the Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. through May 13. Reserved seats are $16.50 for adults and $11.50 for children 16 and younger, while a $2 discount applies for OTA members and for active duty military service members and their spouses.For more information, visit www.OlympicTheatreArts.org or phone the box office at 360-683-7326.