By Sandi Durell
Never has time been so succinctly brought into focus as in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s current revival of J. B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways. The concept of time, often unexplainable, always lingering in our psyche is a metaphysical phenomenon. With the brilliant design by Neil Patel, time becomes more of a reality, which I’ll explain later.
But first let us visit the Conways who reside in northern England in a sumptuous home in 1919 at the end of the Great War. Mrs. Conway, the always shimmering Elizabeth McGovern (of Downton Abbey fame) is a wealthy widow presiding over a rather large family who are celebrating daughter Kay’s (Charlotte Parry) twenty first birthday. She’s the sensitive thinker. It’s a jolly group dragging in trunks and bags with voluminous costumes and accessories. The feeling is of a group of children, having silly fun, as they chatter away, trying on masks, dresses and other articles in preparation for a charade. It all seems a bit overdone.
Hazel (Anna Camp) is the beauty, vain and eager to make a good marriage; Madge (Brooke Bloom) is the pragmatic serious socialist; Carol (Anna Baryshnikov), the youngest, is eager to grow up; brother Alan (Gabriel Ebert) for whom mother and everyone had high hopes, is a timid municipal clerk while favored brother Robin (Matthew James Thomas) has just returned home as a war hero. He has a big bravado but not much else going on. Visiting is their friend Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts), who laughs on a dime as a silly girl, and Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer) who isn’t quite in their class but is a serious businessman and very interested in Hazel. The family friend and solicitor Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narciso) has also joined the party.
The first act spends a lot of time on actors coming and going into and out of an unseen ballroom where the charade takes place, and where the family and guests party heartily. The elegant Mrs. Conway is the belle of the ball, narcissistic in nature with an air of snobbishness.
But now comes the second act that takes place in 1937 in a scene change that focuses attention on time and how it changes the individual lives of the family members. Neil Patel has created a movable set that recedes to the background behind a scrim, as a duplicate (but worn over time) set of the family living room descends. It’s quite imaginative and one of the major highlights of the play that allows past and present to come into focus.
Youngest daughter Carol has died at an unspecified time. A new war is looming. Kay, hoping to have been a novelist, is now a celebrity journalist and is a standout in her role; Hazel has married the very rich but cruel Ernest; Madge, still a socialist, is a school principal, unhappy and alone while Robin, having married Joan is a drunkard and absentee husband and father.
Mrs. Conway calls her family to a business meeting, the children all gather back at the family home to hear the state of their finances from Gerald, and are shocked to learn there is nothing; that, in fact, they are in debt. It is also a time of truth as the self-indulgent Mrs. Conway relates her true feelings about each of her children, or actually insults them royally. She is clueless as to how this situation has befallen her and expects someone to come and solve the problems.
The direction by Rebecca Taichman is inconsistent. We are not touched by any of the characters albeit the elegant McGovern works hard at being a hateful mom.
The standouts are Gabriel Ebert (Matilda) as the contented clerk, and Steven Boyer (Hand to God) as the ruthless Beevers. Paloma Young gets raves for her beautiful costumes. Christopher Akerlind is responsible for lighting and Matt Hubbs for sound.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel
American Airlines Theater – West 42nd Street, running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission. Thru November 26.