Review: The Future Is Always Present in ‘Time and the Conways’

Though the Roundabout production, which opened on Tuesday evening, stars Elizabeth McGovern as the materfamilias, the story really is Kay’s. (She is played well, if with an overly neurotic edge, by Charlotte Parry.) It is Kay who mediates the two halves of the title. During the 1919 scenes she is occasionally stopped in her tracks by presentiments of what’s in store around the corner. It may even be that the 1937 scene is merely her dream — or nightmare.

For us it is a bit of both. Parts of “Time and the Conways” come off as obvious exercises in dramatic irony, as tedious as those charades. Other parts look at the world as it really is and are freshly gripping.

So give credit to the Roundabout for producing this thoughtful revival of an ambitious, vexing, multilayered drama. Still, there’s a reason it has not appeared on Broadway since its 1938 American premiere. Too often it feels like an elaborate mechanism for deploying once-fashionable cosmological ideas.

Photo

Some of the Conway siblings in happier times, from left, Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas and Anna Camp in the Roundabout Theater Company production.

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Influenced by the popular philosopher J. W. Dunne, and particularly his 1927 treatise “An Experiment With Time,” Priestley sought a dramatic structure that would demonstrate the idea that all parts of our lives occur simultaneously, even if we usually see only the current “cross section.” If we could instead grasp the whole thing, he argues, or at least have faith that it exists, we might stop acting as if “we were all in a panic on a sinking ship.”

The argument is flaky. Worse, it isn’t convincing on the play’s own terms. The evidence Priestley presents in the 1937 scene in no way bears out the belief expounded by placid…

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