In the last few years, theater pieces centering on time have increased exponentially. Whereas playwrights like Tom Stoppard and Caryl Churchill were ahead of the curve, the String Theory more recently provided an axis for such as Nick Payne’s Constellations and Incognito and the film Interstellar. In layman’s terms, the theory suggests the past and future of what’s happening now is occurring simultaneously on another plane.
J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways was apparently influenced by “An Experiment with Time” (J.W. Dunne), a precursor with similar hypothesis published in the same year as the 1937 play. Here, the device of watching events unfold in 1919, 1937, and back to 1919 is supposed to suggest that had characters taken a broader view, their lives might’ve been different. Though Priestley’s study of a genre of post-war, pedigreed Britons is intriguing, its time component is, at best, a stretch.
Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas, Anna Camp
It’s the end of WW I, relief is in the air. Those gathered at the gracious Conway estate in Yorkshire represent characters, perhaps a class, whose concerns with status and physical appearance have come through more or less unscathed. Matriarch Mrs. Conway (Elizabeth McGovern) is a controlling, obtusely mean widow in her 40s with children ranging from 16 – the charming, unaffected Carol (Anna Baryshnikov) to 26 – sweet, mild-mannered Alan (Gabriel Ebert). Between are Kaye, an aspiring author whose 21st birthday provides reason for the party, pretty, self absorbed Hazel (Anna Camp), passionate socialist Madge (Brooke Bloom), and irresponsible golden boy Robin, who’s returned an officer. (Matthew James Thomas, a Dan Stevens look-alike)
Matthew James Thomas, Gabriel Ebert, Steven Boyer and Charlotte Parry
A lengthy first scene finds family and friends playing charades (in an adjacent room) and gossiping with contemporaries: society girl Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts), timid, young lawyer, Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narcisco), and ambitious, lower class businessman Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer – unrecognizable from his brilliant turn in Hand to God), who pressed Gerald for an invitation.
This establishes our protagonists. The scene, somewhat tedious in its own right, is alas made more so by Rebecca Taichman’s affected Direction. (Surprising after her last splendid effort, Indecent.) Mrs. Conway flitters grandly as if in a farce. Kaye’s unarticulated prescience is robotic. Gerald looks dazed, Hazel as if she’s posing. Accents, except for Boyer’s, are all over the place. (Dialect Consultant – Deborah Hecht)
Gabriel Ebert, Anna Baryshnikov, Anna Camp, Elizabeth McGovern and Matthew James Thomas
Scene II finds everyone’s lives seriously awry, all that shining promise dashed by seemingly irreparable misbehavior and misjudgment. The privileged clan is unable to cope with real life. A better Act II takes us back to the birthday party where Joan acquires the at-sea Robin, Madge is thwarted in trying to show Gerald what he might have in her as a partner, and Ernest sets his gimlet eye on Hazel. Here’s where Alan briefly refers to perspective on time.
Gabriel Ebert’s low key, sympathetic portrayal of Alan and Steven Boyer’s ferret-like inhabiting of Ernest are credible and nuanced throughout. Also natural is Anna Bryshnikov as Carol, though the actress’s initially chirpy, high pitched voice is abrasive.
The minimal, symmetrical, antiseptic Set (not a personal item anywhere) by Neil Patel looks like a precious dollhouse. Transitioning from then to now to then, however, is well executed.
Paloma Young’s Costumes for the women are almost universally unflattering and rather cheap looking, while pieces employed for charades are appropriate and great fun. The men all look fine.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Elizabeth McGovern, Brooke Bloom and Charlotte Parry
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
Time and the Conways by J.B.Priestley
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street
Through November 26, 2017