J.B. Priestley Play Revived with Direction by Rebecca Taichman
On October 10, 2017, the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Time and the Conways officially opened at the American Airlines Theatre, where it had been running in previews since September 14, 2017. Starring Elizabeth McGovern, who is best known for her role as the matriarch on the television series Downton Abbey, the play received considerable buzz and limited box office success throughout its three and a half weeks of previews. Written by J.B. Priestley, Time and the Conways first debuted in 1937 in London as one of his “time plays,” all of which seek to dramatize a metaphysical theory of time. In this case, Time and the Conways has to do with J.W. Dunne’s Theory of Time, which states that all time actually occurs at once, and the way we experience time is more like a dream that linearly shows us a sequence of temporal moments, that truly all have always existed. To execute this dramatization, Priestley concocted the Conway family, and shows us one of the daughters’, Kay’s, 21st birthday in the year 1919 in first and third acts. In the second act, however, the year is 1937, and much has changed for each of the family members, and not for the better. The play is an attempt to illustrate both the workings of the cosmos, and the workings of the family dynamic.
Upon seeing the show prior to opening night, Jesse Green from The New York Times credits the Roundabout Theatre Company for deciding to revive a play that is multilayered, vexing, and ambitious, but ultimately concludes that the production is far from a slam dunk. He states that the play often feels like an elaborate device for showcasing a theory of time that was once fashionable, and which now comes off as flaky and not even successful on the play’s own terms. David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter was equally unimpressed by the production, calling it “intriguing but difficult,” as well as “dated.” He admits that it is sad, strange, and supernatural, and gives is two stars out of four. Meanwhile, Adam Feldman from Time Out New York calls the play “formerly inventive,” but now deems it “worse for wear.” He considers the first act to be naïve and superficial, and the third act to be a contrived exercise in dramatic irony. Still, Allison Adato from Entertainment Weekly was a fan of the production, enchanted principally by her love of Elizabeth McGovern and her devotion to anything in the fan stratosphere of Downton Abbey. She is completely persuaded by the casting of McGovern as a good enough reason to see this show, and calls it a “forgotten gem of a play.”
Mediocre Performance at the Box Office
In the last week of reported box office figures, the week ending October 8, 2017, Time and the Conways brought in a weekly gross of $319,859, which represents 50.59% of the show’s gross potential. With a top ticket price of $139.00, the average paid admission was $59.88, and the audience was filled up to an average capacity of 91.0%. This is the highest weekly gross the show has brought in to date. Over the course of the 3.5 weeks of reported figures so far, the average percentage reached of gross potential has been 44.68%. With these mixed reviews, it is unlikely that the numbers will spike much higher. Perhaps there will be a momentary bit of buzz due to the recognition, on the part of fans of Downton Abbey, that Elizabeth McGovern is onstage for another month and change, and in a British period piece nonetheless. Still, the show will likely have difficulty selling out the theatre for the remaining performances, up until its scheduled closing date of November 26, 2017.
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