‘An Enemy of the People’ theater review: Jeremy Strong ignites Ibsen

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By journalsofus.com

In a clever move that draws us into the community that is about to witness the spectacular fall of the public figure who crusaded for truth at the center public enemy, descends a bar from above during the pause between acts, with theatergoers coming onto the stage to be served shots of aquavit, while musicians and singers perform traditional Norwegian songs. Many spectators remain sitting around the perimeter when the action resumes. The house lights also remain on, giving us no chance to escape our complicity as the town physician, Dr. Thomas Stockman, played with great intensity by Jeremy Strong, is subjected to taunts that escalate into physical violence. goes.

Sam Gould’s bombastic production up to that point has been deceptively conventional, elegantly staged in a circle round the square, with the first act setting the scene for the conflict in the warmth and cozy domesticity of Stockman’s home. Which is lit by oil lamps. And is trafficked by the constant flow of guests coming for dinner. Unlike some of Gould’s revivals, which have staged classic texts in modern dress, the setting here remains a small town in late 19th-century Norway. But the issues raised by Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play have sharp echoes in contemporary America.

The highly abridged adaptation is by Amy Herzog, who last year traveled across the centuries in Ibsen’s painstaking update. a doll’s house, who played Jessica Chastain in the knockout revival of Jamie Lloyd on Broadway. Herzog’s sharp dialogue is fluid and recognizably American in the vernacular, but not filled with anachronisms.

Without ever attacking the play’s uncanny modern relevance, the new production cleverly underlines the parallels to our current ugly political divide; the risks of being a whistleblower; Disbelief in science by those whose ignorance is manipulated by those in power; test by public opinion; and the conflict between environmental and economic concerns, which will be familiar to 21st century American audiences.

The play follows Stockman’s efforts to spread the word about dangerous bacterial contamination in the water of a spa resort that is the lifeblood of the town. The storyline is reminiscent of everything from the 2016 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to the Covid denialism that spread during the pandemic as the national death toll surpassed one million. When a frustrated Stockman contemplates fleeing the country, there is a laugh from the audience that is both knowing and nervous: “In America, we wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.”

What keeps it interesting is the play’s refusal to free liberals from attitudes ranging from naïveté to belligerent superiority. Strong Stockman is a flawed man, as compelling in his righteous indignation as in his indolent ego.

Working together for the first time, husband-and-wife Gould and Herzog condensed the original five-act structure into two hours broken only by that drunken pause – less than half the usual Broadway intermission.

Some choices aren’t entirely beneficial to the drama, such as the sudden reversal of left-leaning young anti-establishment newspaper editor Hovstad (Caleb Eberhart), who transforms from a keen Stockman supporter to a staunch critic. But there are some smart changes, too, like removing Stockman’s wife, making him a hybrid character with his schoolteacher daughter, Petra (Victoria Pedretti), and making the doctor a recently widowed man grieving.

Stockman is at first both validated and concerned when reports from the university laboratory confirm his suspicions that the spa, where he serves as resident physician, has been contaminated with industrial pollutants, much of which is owned by his filthy father-in-law. Coming from Wali Tannery. , Morton Keil (David Patrick Kelly).

He had no trouble enlisting Hovstedt and his semi-fundamentalist colleague Billing (a very awkward Matthew August Jeffers) to publish the findings. People’s Messenger, a name that changes from symbolic to bitterly ironic as the play unfolds. Hovstad has long been impatient for a changing of the guard, with the city council’s wealthy old men being sidelined for new blood with more progressive views. He believes that the resort’s disaster and investors’ cost-cutting will be enough to discredit him.

Even the more conservative printer who finances the publication, Aslaksen (Thomas J. Ryan), is in Stockman’s corner, promising to use his significant influence to get the merchants and property owners’ associations behind him. Is. But Aslaksan has shown enough signs of being an ungrateful weasel that it’s no surprise to see his face.

The person Stockman expects to least oppose is his brother Peter (Michael Imperioli), the town’s self-important mayor, who shows how little the two men understand each other. Hints of long-standing sibling rivalry increased Peter’s displeasure as he accused Thomas of irresponsibility and threatened to make public the speculative findings that would have cost exorbitantly, depriving the Spa of three years or more. would be closed and the city’s tourist-driven economy would likely collapse.

Thomas remains firm in his belief that the health of the population and its high risk of disease or death outweighs any financial concerns. But his arrogant brother acts swiftly to undermine him. There’s no warmth in the siblings’ relationship, but at the same time, Peter’s desire to destroy Thomas – played with icy restraint and insincere stubbornness by Imperioli – is breathtaking.

Denied any official outlet to publish his report, Thomas announced his intention to speak directly to the people at a town meeting. That meeting is an increasingly noisy affair, and anyone who has ever criticized bureaucratic obstructionism will groan at the deadly efficiency of Peter and Aslaksen working together to prevent Thomas from speaking. This scene is built to a solemn crescendo, the result of which is hair-raising.

Through it all, Strong builds from calm certainty to feverish outrage; Until numb resignation – and, later, a strange optimism for future affirmation – sets in, he is so tightly wound that he does his job. inheritance The character, Kendall Roy, looks cool.

The role of Thomas Stockmann seems tailor-made for the actor’s menacing energy. But he is no ordinary martyr in the post-truth world. Herzog has chosen to retain one of Ibsen’s most thorny speeches, a satire about social evolution in which Stockman uses the distinction between mongrel dogs and pedigree breeds as an analogy for the uneducated masses and elite intellectuals. Talks.

It’s a screw that turns on eugenics, suddenly showing the character in an unsympathetic light. The fact that he can never remember the name of the family maid, Randine (Katie Broad), also calls into question his respect for the servant class.

Strong has never been an actor to shy away from the abrasive edge, but he maintains enough balance to keep us in Thomas’s corner. The shocking image of his complete physical surrender after the brutality of the meeting also lends real pathos to the treatment of the character by the townspeople. If Herzog’s Chekhovian adjustment at the play’s end seems less certain, it still leaves us with a sick sense of moral rot and the alienation of those who speak out against it in a corrupt society.

While Gould’s revivals of classics have been less consistent than his incisive work on new plays – his ensemble King Lear And small village At times it seemed as if the two were acting in separate productions – here their equally excellent cast is on the same page, with many of them doubling up as singers and musicians in scene changes.

In addition to Strong and Imperioli, standouts include Ryan, who embodies slippery purity as Eslaxen; Kelly as Kyle, a mean old drunk; Eberhart as the turncoat editor, whose opportunism costs him any romantic advances he made with Petra; And in the latter role Pedretti, a young woman with the same backbone as her father but perhaps a more clear vision. Alan Trong also impresses as Captain Horster, a sailor unafraid of his loyalty to Thomas’s family.

Sets by the design collective known as “dots” make resourceful use of staging in the round to guide us through 19th-century parlors and dining rooms or offices. People’s Messenger, with remarkably authentic looking furnishings. (Fans of Scandinavian design will drool over a beautifully carved wooden rocking chair.) Isabella Bird’s lighting and David Zinn’s finely detailed costumes evoke the period, while Gould boldly introduces us to the city with his simple solution to the living room. Takes you back to our contemporary world. What could have been a gimmick serves as a bridge between then and now.

This is not the first time that Ibsen – and this work in particular – has been dragged into the present, but it is urgent and effective. Ultimately one of the major strengths of this strong revival is that it reimagines a classic play as a play for our times.

Location: Circle in the Square, New York
Cast: Jeremy Strong, Michael Imperioli, Victoria Pedretti, Caleb Eberhart, Thomas J. Ryan, Matthew August Jeffers, Alan Trono, David Patrick Kelly, Katie Broad, Bill Buell, David Matter Merton, Max Roll
Director: Sam Gould
Playwright: Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Amy Herzog
Scenic Designer: Point
Costume Designer: David Zinn
Lighting Designer: Isabella Bird
Sound Designer: Mikaal Suleman
Seaview, Patrick Catullo, Plan B, Roth-Mannella Productions, Eric and Marcy Gardiner, John Gore Organization, James L. Nederlander, John B. Platt, Atekwana Hutton, Bob Boyette, Chris and Ashley Clark, presented by Cohen-Demmer Productions. Andrew Diamond, GI6 Productions, Sony Music Masterworks, Triptych Studios, Trunfio Ryan, Kate Canova, DJL Productions

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