Climate Protesters Disrupt Broadway Play Starring Jeremy Strong

Climate Protesters Disrupt Broadway Play Starring Jeremy Strong

A trio of climate change protesters disrupted a performance of “An Enemy of the People,” starring Jeremy Strong, on Broadway Thursday night, shouting “no theater on a dead planet” as they were escorted out.

The show they disrupted is selling quite well, thanks to audience interest in Strong, who is riding a wave of fame stemming from his portrayal of Kendall Roy in the HBO drama “Succession.” Strong stars in the play as a physician who becomes a pariah after discovering that his town’s spa baths are contaminated with bacteria; revealing that information could protect public health, but endanger the local economy.

The protest, before a sold-out crowd at the 828-seat Circle in the Square theater, confused some attendees, who initially thought it was part of the play. It was staged during the second half, during a town hall scene in which some audience members were seated onstage and some actors were seated among the audience members. Although the play was written by Henrik Ibsen in the 19th century, this new version, by Amy Herzog, has occasionally been described as having thematic echoes of the climate change crisis.

Strong remained in character through the protest, even at one point saying that a protester should be allowed to continue to speak, said Jesse Green, the chief theater critic for The New York Times, who was among many journalists and critics who were in the audience for a press preview night. “I thought it was all scripted,” Green said. “The timing was perfect to fit into the town meeting onstage, and the subject was related.”

The protest was staged by a group called Extinction Rebellion NYC, which last year disrupted a performance at the Met Opera and a match at the U.S. Open semifinals. Other climate protesters around the world have taken to defacing works of art hanging in museums, but a spokesman for the New York group said that it had not engaged in that particular protest tactic.

A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion NYC, Miles Grant, explained the targeting of popular events by saying, “We want to disrupt the things that we love, because we’re at risk of genuinely losing everything the way things are going.”

The police were on the scene, but said they did not make any arrests after the theater’s management opted not to press charges.

The protest began when a man got up during the town hall scene and began to shout about climate change. Two of the actors in the play, David Patrick Kelly and Michael Imperioli, in character, told the man he had to leave, according to witnesses and a video of the disruption. As the first protester was escorted out, another rose up in a different section of the theater. Some members of the audience booed, and there were cheers when she was escorted out. Then a third protester sprung up.

Even though the police arrived, some audience members left the show still unsure whether the protest had been part of the performance or not.

This version of the classic play was already intended to shed light on the climate crisis, in the eyes of its creative team and stars. “In reading the play, it just ricocheted across every single thing that we’re living through and confronting, from the court of public opinion to the climate crisis,” Strong said at a press briefing last fall.

At that same event, the production’s director, Sam Gold, called the climate crisis “the animating emotional core of working on the play,” and compared Strong’s character, Dr. Thomas Stockmann, to the climate activist Greta Thunberg. “It takes a certain kind of personality to be able to say the truth,” Gold said, “to be able to say you’re all being nuts, and I am just going to tell you the truth, which is we’re destroying the world.”

This revival of “An Enemy of the People” began previews on Feb. 27 and is scheduled to open on Monday.

Maria Cramer contributed reporting.

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