Elizabeth McGovern, Matthew James Thomas, Cara Ricketts and Anna Camp in Roundabout Theatre Company’s TIME AND THE CONWAYS. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
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.
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.
Comedy may be hard, but it seems dark comedy is harder still. After the dour movie starring La Streep, I was happy to get to revisit my beloved MARVIN’S ROOM with the Roundabout’s production starring Lili Taylor, Janeane Garofalo and Celia Weston. I guess I’ll have to hold off on my celebrations until the next revival.
MARVIN’S ROOM, written by Scott McPherson who died at the age of 33 from AIDS, is filled with gallows humor and moments of heartbreaking beauty. This production has mined only half of the laughs and glosses over some of the most touching moments from the play. The director, Anne Kauffman, is aware that it is a comedy, but goes for the broadest jokes as with the overplayed Doctor. Some of the most poignant scenes are barely audible and not given the full weight that they deserve, as in the pivotal scene where Bessie explains to Lee how she benefits from caregiving. Those lines should resonate and devastate, instead, they are just another conversation on an oversized stage. The set is cumbersome and you lose all sense of intimacy so necessary in the tender scenes. The sound design is inadequate to the point where one character is inaudible for half of his lines, further distancing the audience.
I will never forget sitting down at the Minetta Lane Theatre and laughing till I cried at the plight of these Health System Warriors and their struggles to retain their humanity. Even a half-hearted revival won’t dim that memory.