Everyman Theatre officially opened its 2015/16 season by reviving J.B. Priestley’s multi-Tony Award-winning play, An Inspector Calls,a classic English drawing-room mystery à la Agatha Christie – part melodrama and part psychological thriller – reframing its carefully plotted social critique against the backdrop of an increasingly changing world.
Set in 1912, just before the onset of World War I, the Birling family is celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila (Sophie Hinderberger) to Gerald Croft (Jamison Foreman) and is immersed in fine dinner festivities when an enigmatic Inspector Goole (Chris Genebach) pays an unexpected visit, revealing some unfortunate news of a sudden death. Inspector Goole is investigating the suicide of a young woman and proceeds to interrogate the family, discovering dark secrets, and setting off a series of revelations.
Exquisitely staged and visually appealing throughout, Scenic Designer Timothy R. Mackabee and Props Master Jillian Matthews have created an elegant dining room set highlighted with ornate décor, featuring an eye-catching Persian rug and glimmering crystal chandeliers.
Jay A. Herzog’s superb lighting and Elisheba Ittoop’s slightly melodramatic but very effective music coupled with David Burdick’s stunning costume design serve the tremendously talented ensemble well.
Trench-coated, perfectly paced with Herzog’s lighting, amidst a perpetual current of disturbing cello music, Chris Genebach is convincing as the impassioned and provocative but measured Inspector Goole, drawing the audience in and capturing the moral urgency of the play. “We are responsible for each other,” he reminds us.
From start to finish, Visionary Director Noah Himmelstein thoroughly underscores the fine detail and texture of the acting, which smartly succeeds in creating both an interesting set of predominantly unlikeable yet somewhat comical archetypes – specifically, the gruffly arrogant businessman and his brittle wife – while, perhaps, suggesting that the characters themselves are putting on pretentious airs in order to evade their social conscience.
Resident Company members Deborah Hazlett and Bruce Randolph Nelson render outstanding performances as Sybil and Arthur Birling with a precise dose of indignation, capturing the haughty demeanor of ones who is far more interested in their positions in society. Hazlett was particularly noteworthy with her wielding mannerisms and brazen, yet amusingly humorous, quips to Inspector Goole’s persistent inquisition.
Likewise, Josh Adams impresses as the genial foolish alcoholic son Eric, as does Sophie Hinderberger as his stricken socialite sister Sheila and Jamison Foreman as Sheila’s fiancé.
Last but not least, Olivia Ercolano as Edna, the Birlings’ maid, despite her limited stage time, served as a striking visual stand-in for the late Eva, representing another working-class girl who is almost completely ignored by those who perceive themselves to be her social superiors.
Brilliantly bracing and thrillingly thought-provoking, Everyman’s production of An Inspector Calls resurrects a period piece seemingly rooted in the early part of the 20th Century and makes it as relevant and as compelling as ever to an 2015 audience, with a modern theatrical shine.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.