On October 10, the first Broadway revival of J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways opened at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre. Starring Elizabeth McGovern, the play—which debuted in 1938—is set in 1919 during a birthday party for Kay Conway, one of the six Conway children. The over-the-top Mrs. Conway (McGovern) plays grand hostess for the evening, as the audience watches her judge and emotionally ramrod each of her two sons and four daughters. Then, we jump 19 years into the future to see where time has brought this family.
Directed by Rebecca Taichman, the cast of Time and the Conways spoke to Playbill on opening night about bringing the poignant play to life.
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Fresh off of her Tony win for Indecent, Taichman said that getting back to work felt both familiar and fresh. “It’s sort of always about telling a really profound and important story in an honest and moving way one hopes,” she says of going back to work on a new show after such a big win. “And, in another way, there's a sort of support underneath the wings of a community that makes you feel a little different.”
Another Tony winner, actor Gabriel Ebert, joined Playbill on the red carpet. His Tony Award came for his role as Mr. Wormwood in Matilda the Musical and makes a 180 with his gentle role as Alan, showing his versatility in playing “the loudest man and the quietest man.”
“It’s been an interesting challenge,” said Ebert. “He stands and endures so much, and a lot of the time I’m just sort of hanging out in the corner in this play while my family is falling apart. In the rehearsal process it was a frustrating thing because I kept wanting to engage, but this character doesn’t make the choice to engage. I feel like I’ve really learned over the course of previews how to meander the piece.”
Actor Steven Boyer also likes to play a range, like his character Ernest Beavers. “I like to change it up,” he told Playbill. “The sort of outsider misfits really appeal to me. John Hinckley [who he recently played in Assassins] operated in his own head for years and years and came up with this whole story of Jodie Foster that he really believed, and I sympathize with him because I feel like he’s a really wounded person who is mentally ill. The character in this, he comes from a lower-class family—he has nothing, he’s trying to work his way up and when he finally gets there, the family he’s married into expects him to bail them out.”
Playbill also caught up with actors Matthew James Thomas (Pippin), Anna Baryshnikov, and Cara Ricketts. Leading lady Charlotte Parry, who plays Kay, spoke about the trick to crafting the final scene of Act 1, and why the preview process was so important.
McGovern, known to many as the even-keeled Cora from Downton Abbey, spoke about relishing her exuberant role of Mrs. Conway. “I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying it because she’s kind of a character that is very hard to love,” she said. “She’s an absolutely horrible mother in every way. … I feel like I get a sort of purge of my blackness every night and there’s something satisfying about that.”
But, by far, the most revelatory red carpet moment came from Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect). Since the play jumps from 1919 to 1938 and back, these actors have to develop their characters over decades and create their own backstories.
Camp revealed her backstory, one that will change the way audiences look at the play. “Just a couple weeks ago, I decided that Hazel is actually pregnant for a third time. So when she’s talking to Robin and she says, ‘You don’t understand, you don’t understand,’ she’s pregnant again. And I did a lot of research about relationships between men and women in the 30s. I put into my character backstory that he’s threatened to send her to an asylum if she leaves him claiming that she’s hysterical and has hysteria. That’s actually something that happened back then. … So Hazel is very trapped.”
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