By J. B. Priestley
Directed by David Darlow
Produced by Remy Bumppo think theate
At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago
Exquisitely looking and superbly acted production of Priestely’s multi-layered drawing room drama/mystery is a triumph.
It has been awhile since any Chicago theatre troupe has attempted J. B. Priestley’s 1945 class play, An Inspector Calls. But the terrific talents at Remy Bumppo think theatre, under the exquisite direction from David Darlow, have mounted a first-rate, gorgeous looking and expertly acted production of the staple of the British stage.
An Inspector Calls, set in 1912 Edwardian Britain (think Downton Abbey) in an upper middle class family (fine set design by Alan Donahue) the Birling family are celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila (Isabel Ellison) to another upper class gentleman, Gerald Croft (Greg Matthew Anderson). We meet the blustery Birling patriarch, Arthur (Roderick Peeples) as he pontificates about the virtues of wealth and privilege as he gives the younger folks advise. He is content with the status quo and he dismissed any talk of European war. That was typical response to British society in the Edwardian Age in 1912.
The celebratory mood quickly changes upon the arrival of a policeman, Inspector Goole (Nick Sandys). This dapper commanding police officer is a polished, good looking man with a smooth and uncompromising approach to his task. He is at the Birling residence to investigate why a young girl would commit suicide.
Goole gets immediate push back from Arthur as he flaunts his privilege social and economic status but the Inspector is determined to do his duty. He shows Arthur (and subsequently each person he questions) the girl’s photo taking pains that only that specific person he is talking to see the photo. As the questioning move along, it becomes clear that each member of the family, including the mother, Sybil (Lia Mortensen) have had a history with the girl. It emerges that all six of the people here including Gerald and the youngest child, Eric (Luke Daigle) each contributed directly or indirectly to the girls desperation that led to her suicide.
So, on one level An Inspector Calls is a drawing room drama turned mystery a la Agatha Christie with a twist. Priestley has structured a clever mystery that seems to be ‘solved’ but on another level Priestley has another agenda weaved into his mystery. He uses individual guilt and personal accountability to highlight his social justice demands. Combining a smartly constructed mystery into a call for personal and social change reminds me of how Dickens, Shaw and Ibsen used drama to stir audiences.
The production elements by the creatives at Remy Bumppo including the fabulous set and the wonderful period-perfect costumes (by Emily Waecker) together with the expert acting by the entire cast making this production of An Inspector Calls one of the strongest shows mounted in Chicago this year!
Nick Sandys is fabulous as the intensely focused inspector (or is he?). He smoothly and effectively drills each person until they spill their guts. But. Sandys allows his intense demeanor in his departing speech (directly to the audience) to hint that he may be more than an inspector. (An avenging angel, perhaps?).
British actress Isabel Ellison, as Shelia, is terrific as the vice of the younger folks determined to demand accountability despite the turn of events. Roderick Peeples is larger -than-life as the domineering patriarch. Lia Mortensen nicely exudes the mother’s self-justifying rationalization of her actions. Luke Daigle shows the weakness of young pampered Eric.
This plays work on all levels due to the spot-on timing and the strong performances from the cast. Once we get over the shocking plot twists, the play gets us thinking about the consequences of social inequality that still haunts society in the 21st Century. We leave this stunningly powerful play both entertained and thinking. That can only spark real change. Kudos to David Darlow for an elegant theatrical event.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: December 9, 2013
For more info checkout the An Inspector Calls page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N.Lincoln, Chicago, IL, www.remybumppo.org, tickets $37.50-$52.50, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, special Wednesdays, Dec 18 & h=jan 8 at 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through January 12, 2014