By Tulis McCall

How do you go from being a hero to being an enemy?  Tell the truth.  The end.

It helps if you first let things slide, like shoddy construction, then act on your suspicions and THEN tell the truth.  You will be swept off the tracks faster than fast.

That pretty much sums it up.  Dr. Thomas Stockman (Jeremy Strong) is living in his hometown in Norway where he is the physician at the Baths.  The Baths are a local health retreat where the water is calmed to be rich in healing minerals, and Stockmann had a lot to do with the construction.  The shoddy bits he let slide.  FYI He moved back home after his wife died and lives there now with his daughter Petra (Victoria Pedretti) and his son Eilif.

Oops! What happened to Mrs. Stockmann, you may ask.  Well, she has been dispatched by Amy Herzog’s adaptation and replaced by Petra who seems to be a condensed version of the two women.  The two sons have been reduced to one, Eilif, who is spoken of but never seen.  There are changes in the script as well – the most striking to me was that Petra calls her father “Dad” which sounds out of place.  “Father” would have made more sense to me and not taken away from Herzog’s desire to streamline the text.  And it does indeed feel streamlined.

The good news is that this cast handles the adaptation very well indeed.  Sam Gold’s direction initially sets up the story with a light touch as we are introduced to the major players.  It is evening, and the table at the Stockmann home is always available for the occasional stray.  Hovstad (Caleb Eberhardt) is the progressive editor of the local paper, “The People’s Messenger,”  Billing (Matthew August Jeffers) is in his employ.  The Mayor, Peter Stockmann (Michael Imperioli) is wound tight as a clock and has a sever case of entitlement. His only problem is his brother who he sees as a wildcard who needs his wings trimmed.  Petra is the bland (and often inaudible) daughter whose metal is not tested until her father is royally challenged.

Into this mix comes THE LETTER from the University confirming that the water Stockmann collected and sent for testing is filled with bacteria – and not the good kind.  All present agree that the public must be made aware of this situation, that lives will be saved, and Stockmann will be acknowledged for the hero that he is.

Not quite.

This play reminded me of “The Voysey Inheritance” at the Atlantic Theatre Company.  This was another adaptation – David Mamet adapted the play by Harley Granville-Barker.  An upscale family discovers that their wealth is based on a Ponzi scheme maintained by the patriarch.  When the son learns of this and sets out to make things right, he discovers that his family is fine with the status quo.  More recently we have Bernie Madoff.

In this play, the logistics of recreating the mineral baths so they do not receive the runoff poison water from the tannery unroll like a moldy blanket, and the smell gets worse with each revelation.  Stockmann’s voracity is questioned, along with his honor.  The accuracy of the report is questioned.  And who is Stockmann to think that his report is the one to which everyone must pay attention.

It is curdling to watch these formerly friendly folk turn as one into a unit that will block the truth because the public does not need to know it.  The only truth they need to know is that the repairs will come out of their pockets – not the men who mismanaged the Baths construction in the first place.  The tax payers will not want to pay for the needed fixes.  End of story.

Global Warming anyone?

The cast is nearly seamless in their performances.  Jeremy Strong offers a certain innocence in his performance that makes his journey all the more compelling.  Michael Imperioli’s Mayor is a man obsessed with not appearing obsessed, and once you are onto him it is hard to look away.  The rest of the cast plays everything close to the vest and judiciously drop breadcrumbs to lure us in.

There are a few staging surprises that work very well indeed.  We are not merely observers.  We are witnesses. This is “Right vs Might” and it is not news.  The only hopeful note is Stockmann’s refusal to give up.  May we be blessed with that backbone as we move into the next few months.  This is, in no small way, a cautionary tale for our time.  Bravo.

AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Amy Herzog, Direced by Sam Gold

WITH Katie Broad, Bill Buell, Caleb Eberhardt, Michael Imperioli, Matthew August Jeffers, David Patrick Kelly, David Mattar Merten, Victoria Pedretti, Max Roll, Thomas Jay Ryan, Jeremy Strong and Alan Trong.

Scenic design by dots, costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Isabella Byrd, sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman, hair and wig design by Campbell Young Associates, fight direction by Thomas Schall,

Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre (235 W 50th Street). Through June 16. TICKETS