When Kay Conway stares ahead searchingly and speaks what she believes is a numbing truth – “There’s a great devil in the universe, and we call it time” – you feel the chill in her heart. Are we captives of something inexorable? It is then up to Kay’s brother Alan to remind her that time, daunting as it may be, is about joy as much as woe.
The notion and the workings of time loomed large in the mind of British playwright J.B. Priestly. Time and the Conways, now on stage at the Old Globe Theatre, was one of Priestly’s “Time Plays” written during the ‘30s and ‘40s. This Globe production, directed with the light touch of a second hand in motion by Rebecca Taichman, is a stirring experience. You don’t necessarily expect a costume drama set initially in the immediate aftermath of World War I’s conclusion to wash over you so completely. But as Time and the Conways’ flamboyant characters go from present to past and back to present again, they become as fascinating as time itself, Central among them is Kay Conway (Amanda Quaid), the manor’s intellectual presence, who is resolved to becoming a statement-making novelist. Even in Act 1, on the occasion of her 21st birthday when she’s instructing her siblings in a game of charades, Kay’s arch determination is at the fore. In Act 2, 19 years later, Kay is 40, and her grand vision is blurred by compromise and disillusionment. She is not a broken woman, but there is a crack in her will. How she came to such a state is revealed in Act 3, which returns the narrative to the evening of Kay’s party. The thread between all three acts, which morph from one to the other with slow movement of the sets and the heart-rending notes of a piano, is thread-like time.
Kay is not the only Conway with a checkered fate. Sister Hazel (Rose Hemingway) is destined for an abusive marriage, Madge (Morgan Hallett) and brother Alan (Jonathan Fielding) for loneliness, brother Robin (Lee Aaron Rosen) for professional and marital failure and sister with a heart of gold Carol (Leanne Agmon) for worse. Not only Quaid, but Fielding, Hallett and Agmon bring tremendous poignancy to their characters, even in the first-act merrymaking before all the ominous signs emerge.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat