JB Priestley’s between-the-wars drama, Time and the Conways bears the hallmarks of a well-made play of the period. It’s suffused with class conflict and familial strife. But this is one of Priestley’s ‘time plays’ and halfway through he upends expectations with metaphysical questions about dreams, memory and the nature of time.
In 1919, the Conway family reunites for a celebration of Kay’s 21st birthday. In the second act the play leaps forward in time to 1937 when Kay (Charlotte Parry) turns 40. In the intervening years the family’s fortunes have diminished and the siblings find themselves far from where they hoped to be.
Though it boasts a stellar ensemble and considered direction by Rebecca Taichman, the production struggles in the first act which is played too broadly. But Taichman tightens things up in the second act. When Kay bemoans life passing her by, her brother Alan (Gabriel Ebert) posits that time is not linear — that past and present co-exist. From this point the play deepens and Kay’s search for happiness becomes increasingly bittersweet.
Alan’s parallel universes manifest in Neil Patel’s design. The solid, gilded parlour of 1919 slides to the back of the stage, while a faded, transparent version of the same room descends from the rafters. Visible echoes of 1919 remain and Taichman toys with stage boundaries to illustrate Priestley’s cosmic ideas.
The performances are strong. Parry and Ebert exude quiet suffering. Brooke Bloom radiates energy as the lively socialist sister who disintegrates under her mother’s cruelty. Elizabeth McGovern’s frivolous matriarch is a little less varied but in keeping with the piece while Steven Boyer, as an ardent working-class suitor, becomes terrifying as his character ages.