Theater review by Adam Feldman
J.B. Priestley’s 1937 drama is about time, and its current Broadway revival, if nothing else, makes you aware of time passing. Formally inventive when it premiered, the play begins in the home of a large and well-off British family in 1919; it then skips forward to show us the same group, much the worse for wear, 18 years later—though the characters, inexplicably, are 19 years older—before returning us to 1919. There are a few minutes of philosophy about the slippery nature of time itself, but otherwise Time and the Conways has three discrete parts. Act I is naive drawing-room frippery, with characters rushing about in fluffy fake mustaches for an offstage game of charahdes. Act II is all bitter internecine sniping; Act III is a half-hour exercise in heavy dramatic irony. (A girl who will die talks of how she will live; people whose hearts will break predict how happy they will surely be.)
It’s unclear why the Roundabout has chosen to mount this play, except perhaps that director Rebecca Taichman has staged it before, and Elizabeth McGovern, who played the kindly matriarch of a comparable family on Downton Abbey, was available to play the mother. The production features solid work from most of the actors, including Charlotte Parry as the intellectually ambitious Kay, Anna Camp as her pretty but vacuous sister Hazel, Steven Boyer as Hazel’s brutish suitor—a bullet of a man—and Brooke Bloom, who makes welcomely bold choices as the sour socialist Madge. But Time and the Conways requires a stronger gravitational force than McGovern’s airy performance provides. The center does not hold.
American Airlines Theatre (Broadway). By J.B. Priestley. Directed by Rebecca Taichman. With Elizabeth McGovern, Charlotte Parry. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission. Through Nov 26.