Last night David and I saw Chicago Shakespeare's production of J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls. The play which was written in the '40's was first produced in Russia. Priestley was a life-long socialist and the play contains elements of that philosophy.
It is a strange work, made even stranger by the production given by Chicago Shakespeare. The play began with very loud music and the action taking place in front of the curtain. When the curtain rose, revealed was a small house center stage with people inside. The first part of the action took place in this structure with someone occasionally coming out on the small balcony. An engagement celebration was taking place. You could hear them but it was distracting not to see the action.
From the audience a tall man comes on stage and asks the maid (who is outside the house) to announce him to the owner. (The maid, incidentally was played by 90 year old Diana Payne-Myers)
The front of the house unfolds and we see a dining room with several people bunched around a table. A set of stairs is brought up and attached to the floor of the house. Eventually everyone comes down to the stage level where the inspector questions them about the suicide of a young woman.
At first each denies knowing her but finally confesses to the knowledge. Guilt is rife on stage.
I began to feel that I was watching a new translation of a medieval 'Morality Play'. The Inspector in the role of God and the family the sinners. In the end, after the Inspector leaves, they all go at each other with accusations and admit to knowing the girl.
In a dramatic stage effect, the house tips forward crashing everything from the table to the stage floor, denoting, I guess, the collapse of the family. I wondered if they break a new set of dishes each performance or simply place the shards on the table after each performance.
Years ago, the second play I ever directed was Everyman, the German morality place that is still performed each year in Garmisch. It had a similar message.
The cast seemed fine in their roles but I couldn't quite get involved in what seemed an artificial premise. Old age, I guess!