TIME AND THE CONWAYS

Elizabeth McGovern, Matthew James Thomas, Cara Ricketts and Anna Camp in Roundabout Theatre Company’s TIME AND THE CONWAYS. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

*** 1/2

In TIME AND THE CONWAYS, by J.B. Priestley of AN INSPECTOR CALLS, a fatherless family of siblings, led by their capricious Mother, throw a birthday party in 1919 Britain at the end of the war. The play then makes a jump to 1937 where we can see the effect of time on the characters and the result is not heartwarming.

Director Rebecca Taichman, who won a Tony for last season’s INDECENT, once again shows her flair for theatricality with a mise en scène that fits the melancholy action elegantly. There is a Set change that is so achingly mournful, I won’t easily forget it.

Nevertheless, this is not a perfect revival. Ms. Taichman concentrates on the grand illusion while the cast is sidelined. The performances are uneven and some of the revelations are diluted. This is a charming play with inventive staging, so I am happy I saw it, but like the Conways themselves, I only wish it had fulfilled its potential.

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JUNK

JUNK at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

***

Imagine a dystopian society where everyone’s sole motivation is greed and the only god anyone worships is Money. No, this isn’t a Margaret Atwood cautionary tale about the future, it’s JUNK, Ayad Akhtar‘s take on 1980s indulgence and the subsequent financial collapse. Using a funhouse mirror set, this is a play about only seeing the world thru the distortion of avarice.

I loved Ayad Akhtar‘s 2012 play DISGRACED, which delved deep into identity as defined thru religion and race, told in very modern and bold terms. You can still see Mr. Akhtar’s wit in JUNK, but with more than quadruple the number of characters his skill at showing the many conflicting layers of personality gets narrowed to just the lead, Robert Merkin. Merkin is an obvious swap for IRL Michael Milken, the Junk Bond King, famous for hostile takeovers and insider trading.

Disappointingly, this is a story we have seen in MANY plays and movies. There are no real surprises, until the last few minutes of the play. So although the pace is quick and the text is smart, it is an old story that plays out as expected. And if he mansplained “Junk Bonds” one more time, I would have walked out.

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THE HONEYMOONERS at Paper Mill Playhouse

The Honeymooners at Paper Mill Playhouse; Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade; from left to right: Leslie Kritzer (Alice), Laura Bell Bundy (Trixie), Michael Mastro (Norton) and Michael McGrath (Ralph)

**1/2

I wanted to like THE HONEYMOONERS, A New Musical Comedy. It has great characters played by great actors; just look at that cast! But what book writers Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss don’t know about the construction of a musical is stupefying. In the first act alone there are two big “let’s celebrate” numbers that are totally unearned. What the hell are they celebrating? All of the comedic “bits” from the original show are here, but they trot them out for display, rather than use them to any effect. The outcome is a string of TV sitcom episodes pasted together with songs thrown in to try to make a musical.

The second act is marginally satisfying, but the music is forgettable and the lyrics are clumsy. If you want to watch “The Honeymooners,” I would suggest YouTube. There are plenty of old episodes there for free. And let’s hope that the next projects for Michael McGrath, Leslie Kritzer, Laura Bell Bundy and Michael Mastro will be worthy of their estimable talents.

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