Monday, July 15, 2024

Review: Jeremy Strong and Michael Imperioli Make Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” More Timely Than You Could Imagine


Henrik Ibsen wrote “An Enemy of the People” in 1882. He could never guess how timely it would be in 2024 — and in its 11th production on Broadway since 1895!

Sam Gold’s revival at Circle in the Square — updated by Amy Herzog — is an exciting and inventive night in the theater. The principle reasons (besides the directing and writing) are the stars, Jeremy Strong and Michael Imperioli, who give commanding performances as important brothers in a small Norwegian town. Strong’s Thomas is a doctor and scientist. Imperioli. Peter is the town mayor and chief business director. They are about to be at odds. Thomas has discovered that the town mineral baths — center of their economy because of their healing powers — are poisoning the water supply, making locals sick and possibly die. He wants them shut down. Peter is adamant Thomas’s report never see the light of day, as it will destroy the town financially.

In the mix of this are the local printer, who refuses to publish Thomas’s findings, and the newspaper editor who realizes a dead town will wipe out his business as well. There is also Thomas’s supportive daughter, Petra.

Things come to head during a town meeting in which Thomas is not allowed to present his exact report, or scare the people. The lights go up in Circle in the Square for a spine tingling presentation that ends in violence. Thomas is labeled ‘an enemy of the people’ for trying to warn them with truth, and scientific facts.

Sound familiar? It’s hard not to see Thomas as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Peter as a Trumpian naysayser of fact, and the people as a MAGA mob. Ibsen didn’t know this in 1882, but that’s his play. What it means is no one has learned a thing in 130 years. It’s a wonder the people of this fictitious town survived, or that we did either.

Gold’s cast is remarkably at ease on stage. Strong’s Thomas is an intellectual hero with a sense of mordant humor. He knows what he’s up against, but perseveres. Imperioli’s Peter is a self absorbed bad guy with no conscience. They are each excellent. Kudos to David Patrick Kelly as Thomas’s father in law. A theater vet, Kelly has appeared in a dozen or so Broadway productions since 1975 without even a Tony nomination. This performance will grab him Featured Actor in a Play with little trouble. He owns the stage when he sets foot on it.

The centerpiece of the play is the town meeting. At a press performance last week, climate activists infiltrated the audience and start shouting protests. Much is made of this today by reviewers who were present. But that’s just PR, no matter how it happened. This production is powerful enough on its own. Ibsen was prescient.

Producers know they have a hit. An old fashioned A list after party was held at The Grill, formerly the Four Seasons, following the show. Like the show itself, the party teemed with celebrities including Rachel McAdams, Lin Manuel Miranda, Paul Dano, F. Murray Abraham, Richard Kind, The Sopranos’ Steve Schirripa, Rebecca Hall and Morgan Spector, Michael Cerveris, Dan Stevens, Lisa Ann Walter, and so on.

I’m advised that in just two weeks a stampede of other famous faces have made it to Circle in the Square including — are you ready? — Robert Downey Jr., Richard Gere, Anne Hathaway, Nicholas Braun, Jessica Chastain, Edward Norton, Rachel Brosnahan, Corey Hawkins, Sarah Paulson, Adam DiMarco, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rita Moreno, Jesse Armstrong, Andrew Barth Feldman, Mercedes Ruehl and Woody Allen.

Trust me — more are coming!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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