Directed by Carolyn Klein
Produced by Seanachai Theatre Company
At the Irish-American Heritage Center, Chicago
Hilarious riff on both the Irish and the Brits works with unique style
Seanachai Theatre Company (Equity troupe) follows their terrific production of The Weir with Irish playwright Gerard Stembridge’s wacky kitchen sink comedy, That Was Then. This is a contemporary tale of the simmering tensions beneath the surface between the Irish and the Brits told through a unique blend of theatricality that finds two kitchen/dinning room sets as the scene of two social/business meetings between an Irish and a Brit couples whose need for a loan reverses itself over time.
Dublinities Noel (the charming Ira Amyx) and his wife May (Molly Glynn) host a dinner party in hopes of landing a loan from British businessman Julian (Joseph Wycoff) and his wife June (Sarah Wellington). Due to too much drink by Noel, his anti-British biases come out that antagonizes the British couple despite May’s peacemaking efforts. Mayhem ensues.
When, five years later, the tables have turned that necessitate the Brits hosting the Irish for dinner in their London flat in the hopes of landing a loan from the now rich Irishman, the “tables” surly have turned giving the play a workable twist. That Was Then is set in two time periods simultaneously (pre – and post-Celtic Tiger Era Ireland). Playwright Gerard Stembridge and director Carolyn Klein deftly weave the events of both evenings into a funny and cleverly presented dark comedy.
The cast, especially Chicago newbie Ira Amyx, move effortlessly between the early and the later personalities of their characters. The change of times works smoothly due to the spot-on timing of this fine cast. From Molly Glynn’s enabler wife (to Noel), to Sarah Wellington’s June, strong support of her weakling husband Julian played nicely by Joseph Wycoff, to the excellent work by Ira Amyx who transports Noel from a drunken bigot to a nurturing successful sober business tycoon together with Anne Sunser’s simple girlfriend (to Noah), you’d be hard pressed to find a finer cast than this one. Terrific brogues and accents and expert comic timing reign throughout this funny and biting social satire.
Robert Groth and Jennifer J. Thusing’s sets contribute much to the production. That Was Then is smart glimpse into the simmering tensions that still resonate between the Irish and the Brits. The play also pokes fun at AA attempts to erase alcoholism and the ethics of financial dealing and government corruption. But at its core, That Was Then is a clever contemporary comedy of manners.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 26, 2011
For full show information, check out the That Was Then page at Theatre In Chicago.
At the Irish-American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Know, Chicago, IL
Another view by Will Fink
That Was Then
That Was Then employs a very creative structure; basically, two dinners, with mainly the same set of characters, are played out simultaneously on the stage, which is split into two different kitchen / dining rooms: one in a well-to-do but typical Irish home, the other, six years later, in a posh part of London. It takes the viewer a few minutes to realize what’s going on, which is something that will happen when a play shifts time in a novel manner. But the folks at Seanachai execute this structure very well. Once the play hits its stride – once the audience realizes what’s happening on stage – the acting, blocking, and direction make it very clear which time we’re in; and Gerard Stembridge plays the two different times off of each other quite well, one time interjecting a line apropos to the other. Is it a strong enough gimmick (and, really, that’s what it is) to carry the show? No; and the end isn’t as strong as it could be. Is it plenty of fun getting there? Absolutely. It’s a riot of a play, with really excellent acting from basically the entire cast. Could the same gimmick be implemented similarly in another play, making it a stronger piece? Without question. And, with the right writing, it would cease to be a gimmick and start being a real tool for storytelling.