‘An Enemy of the People’ review — Jeremy Strong, Michael Imperioli revitalize a timeless play

Read our review of An Enemy of the People on Broadway, starring Succession's Jeremy Strong, The Sopranos's Michael Imperioli, and You's Victoria Pedretti.

Allison Considine
Allison Considine

Henrik Ibsen wrote his seminal play An Enemy of the People in 1883, but its themes of power, corruption, public safety, and environmental issues hit the pulse of current headlines. The show is so relevant that I overheard a fellow audience member incredulously say, “Wait, this was written how many years ago?”

The drama’s 10th revival on Broadway, in a new translation by Amy Herzog, gets the star treatment with Jeremy Strong (Succession) and Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos). Director Sam Gold's production of An Enemy of the People skillfully balances the play’s history and its timeliness.

An Enemy of the People follows Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Strong), the medical officer for a resort and spa baths in his small Norwegian town. The Baths lure visitors and hold promise to transform the town into “a teeming metropolis.” When Stockmann discovers the water in the baths is contaminated, he sounds the alarm.

Stockmann’s brother, Peter (a steely Imperioli), is the mayor and chairman of the baths project, who spearheads the charge in turning the townspeople against Stockmann. Instead of being heralded as a town hero, he is marked as a pariah, and the public safety issue turns political. Sound familiar?

Just a reminder: The play debuted 141 years ago. But this production beautifully integrates its 19th-century Nordic roots. The set, designed by the collective dots, features lunette windows and white walls adorned with blue “rosemåling,” a traditional Nordic design. Cast members sing Norwegian folk songs during scenic transitions, and the stage is aglow with candle lanterns (lighting by Isabella Byrd), imbuing the spirit of “hygge,” a Scandinavian word for “comfort.”

Key to the play’s balancing act is Strong’s performance. Stockmann’s transition from being a servant of the people to their titular enemy is swift, and Strong expertly portrays the demise. The local newspaper staff ensure their support for Stockmann, declaring, “We are behind you like a wall.” But their backing flickers out as quickly as the extinguished candles between scenes.

Stockmann, however, remains steadfast in his convictions. In one of the strongest scenes, Strong is curled in a ball onstage, his wool trousers wet from melting ice cubes. (The ice cubes are clever stand-ins for rocks, driving home the play’s theme of water.) He’s been iced out, literally, and rises to his feet to keep speaking truth to power. It’s an impactful message.

An Enemy of the People summary

The drama follows Doctor Thomas Stockmann, the medical officer of a health resort and Baths in a small Norwegian town. When a university study reveals the town’s water supply is severely contaminated, Stockmann attempts to expose the truth for the public’s safety, but he’s met with resistance from those in power — mainly his brother, the mayor. Stockmann is ostracized, and his scientific findings are deemed improbable and less important than the town’s economy.

What to expect at An Enemy of the People

The two-hour play has a “pause,” but no intermission. Instead, there’s a 10-minute break where audience members are encouraged to walk up to a bar on stage and imbibe in free shots of the Nordic spirit aquavit. (Linie Aquavit is a sponsor of the show.) While some audience members might prefer more time to queue up for the restroom, this lively pause, accompanied by the singing of folk songs, may be a welcome surprise for others.

The drink break also sets the tone for the play’s town hall scene, where audience members, with cups in hand, become attendees at a heated community meeting. This is where the Circle in the Square Theatre's in-the-round setup, with audiences on three sides of the stage, really shines. With the house lights up, the audience is implicated in the discourse — especially the lucky few seated on stage for the riveting scene.

What audiences are saying about An Enemy of the People

At the time of publication, An Enemy of the People has a 90% rating on Show-Score, with audiences raving about the performances and translation.

  • “See it if you want to see an innovative spin on Ibsen. The staging is clever and feels a bit interactive. Jeremy Strong fans won’t be disappointed!” - Show-Score user Judy 305054
  • “See it if for an updated version of a classic, expertly translated, acted & directed, that powerfully resonates. Electrifying town-hall scene rocks. Go!” - Show-Score user GreatAvi
  • “Don't see it if you're looking for something fast-paced, lighthearted, or simple.” - Show-Score user Laura 3139
  • “Don't see it if you don’t like audience interaction.” - Show-Score user Member 21619

Read more audience reviews of An Enemy of the People on Show-Score.

Who should see An Enemy of the People

  • Those who watched Jeremy Strong’s star turn as Kendall Roy in HBO’s Succession will be more than satisfied watching the actor take the stage in this leading role.
  • Michael Imperioli has been at the center of some of the most riveting TV for decades, including The Sopranos and The White Lotus. Fans of Imperioli’s roles on the silver screen will be excited to watch his Broadway debut.
  • Theatregoers who enjoyed last season’s A Doll’s House on Broadway, another Ibsen classic translated by Amy Herzog, will likely enjoy this fresh take on a 19th-century play.
  • This production of An Enemy of the People is in conversation with The Hunt off Broadway; both center on public servants ostracized from tight-knit Scandinavian communities.

Learn more about An Enemy of the People

This production of An Enemy of the People may be driven by star power, but its enduring message packs a punch for seasoned theatregoers and those new to Ibsen’s works. And audiences will be talking about the bar on stage for years to come.

Learn more and get An Enemy of the People tickets on New York Theatre Guide. An Enemy of the People is at the Circle in the Square Theatre through June 16.

Additional An Enemy of the People content

Photo credit: Victoria Pedretti and Jeremy Strong in An Enemy of the People. (Photo by Emilio Madrid)

Originally published on

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