‘An Enemy of the People’ Broadway Review: Jeremy Strong Makes a Great Dr. Fauci

The “Succession” star returns to the Gotham boards in an Ibsen revival that’s short, swift and politically pointed

Jeremy Strong in Enemy of the People Broadway
Jeremy Strong in "An Enemy of the People" (Credit: Emilio Madrid)

It’s the Covid pandemic all over again at the Circle in the Square, where a radically pared-down version of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” opened Monday.

Best of all is Jeremy Strong’s Dr. Thomas Stockmann, who vividly recalls Dr. Anthony Fauci, especially when this good Norwegian doctor is warning a town about the dangers of an impending epidemic.

The only problem with making “Enemy” a blow-by-blow retelling of Trump and Fauci’s battles is that what we all endured in real life a few years ago was so much more dramatic than what’s being offered onstage under the direction of Sam Gold.

“An Enemy of the People” typically runs three hours or more. At Circle in the Square, the playwright Amy Herzog delivers a swift two hours with an intermission at which drinks are served gratis onstage. Pre-pandemic, Daniel Fish’s radical rethinking of the musical “Oklahoma!” offered similar refreshments at intermission in the same theater, but Gold doesn’t make a habit of repeating what other directors do.

In fact, his recent interpretations on Broadway of “The Glass Menagerie,” “King Lear” and “Macbeth” have taken their knocks for being far too eccentric. Gold’s “Enemy,” on the other hand, sticks to the Norwegian locale and the late 19th century time frame of Ibsen’s play. Isabella Byrd’s very atmospheric lighting even features a lot of gas lamps, the set design by Dots delivered in rough-hewn wood.

In a sweet directorial touch, standees are offered seats on the stage after intermission to rest their feet and witness up-close Strong’s speech to the townspeople that they not believe his brother the mayor (Michael Imperioli, being very Trumpian) or those jerks at the newspaper (Caleb Eberhardt and Thomas Jay Ryan, being very Giulianian), because “we’re going to have an epidemic,” the doctor warns.

Back in 1882, Ibsen cautioned his publisher that he wasn’t sure if they should call “An Enemy of the People” a drama or a comedy, because he thought the Dr. Stockmann character exhibits perhaps a bit too much zeal in wanting to close down the town’s contaminated spa. What Ibsen never worried about is anyone calling his play “agitprop,” which is what Herzog and Gold have turned it into.

Has there ever been a more pure hero and a more abused victim on stage than Strong’s wonderful doctor? Of all the vipers on “Succession,” Strong was able to imbue his capitalist with the most humanity. Here in “Enemy,” without the shackles of greed and ambition, he achieves beatification. Strong last appeared on Broadway as Richard Rich in the 2008 revival of “A Man for All Seasons.”

Herzog’s rewriting of “Enemy” (they’re calling it a “new version”) is a vast improvement on her rewriting of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” last season, in which 19th century characters were heard saying stuff like “he’s wasted” and “I’ll take you up on that” and “what’s going on with you?” With “Enemy,” Herzog turns on the automatic pilot of modern slang only once, when someone cracks, “She was messing with me.” Not that this writer doesn’t occasionally flex her creativity.

In Herzog’s version, Dr. Stockmann momentarily contemplates leaving Norway so he can say, after the doctor has nearly been stoned to death by ice cubes left over from the bar at intermission, “In America we won’t have to worry about anything like this!” This line might get the biggest laugh ever recorded in a theater serving up a play purported to have been written by Ibsen.

Hitting even closer to these shores is Stockmann’s daughter, Petra (Victoria Pedretti), who toys with opening a school at play’s end. She tells her father about his young son, “I can actually teach him something if I don’t have to follow the ridiculous standards.”

If this good doctor gets his way and the family actually moves to America, let’s hope the Stockmanns don’t make the mistake of ending up in Florida.

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