AN INSPECTOR CALLS is a play written by English dramatist J.B.Priestley. It is one of Priestley’s best known works for the stage and considered to be one of the classics of mid-20th-century English theatre. The play is a three-act drama, which takes place on a single night in 1912 England, focusing on the prosperous Birling family who is hosting a lavish dinner party to celebrate their daughter’s engagement. A knock on the door brings a determined police inspector, investigating the death of a young girl. What starts as an evening of celebration in a close-knit family steadily deteriorates as the inspector continues his probing questions. As the night wears on, the stunned family begins to unearth secrets that slowly unravel the mystery surrounding the girl’s death. But it is only after the inspector leaves that they discover the final twist in the tale. Inviting the audience to search for not-so-hidden symbolism, the play is long considered part of the repertory of classic “drawing room” theatre and is a classic thriller of mystery and suspense hailed as a scathing critique of the hypocrisies of Victorian/Edwardian English society.
Producer Juliann Pomykacz does a great job of setting the mood by adorning the lobby with actual news stories of the period including the maiden voyage of the Titanic and ads for “Duke of N.Y. Cigarettes”. Music of a bygone era wafts through the building before the start and during intermissions to help sustain the melodramatic atmosphere. The entire story takes place in the dining room of the Birling house. The nicely appointed stage designed by Susan DeMinico is replete with period piece furniture, lace curtains and old-time paintings.
Jim McBride does a convincing turn as Arthur, head of the household, showing a depth of character development throughout the piece. Gina Yanuzzi brings a refreshing turn to the role of the privileged daughter, Sheila. Nailing a perfect upper crust British accent, she moves through the night with a roller coaster of emotions yet still maintaining a suitable level of virtue and cynicism. Phyllis Josephson is a hoot as the haughty Matron of the family, displaying a good understanding of her character’s snooty yet vulnerable spirit. Watching these two women perform is a real treat. Sean Downing as the newly engaged Gerald and Cara Dickinson as the Maid do a decent job, but less convincing in their roles are Jake Hufner as Eric, the intemperate son and Gary Werner as the Inspector. The latter doing his best to channel his inner Perry Mason with a somewhat unimaginative delivery.
Kudos to George Clark, Sound Design/Operator for ensuring a proper balance and consistency throughout the performance–it was noticed.
Director Jeanne Gold is masterful in her subtle nuancing of the understanding of human vanity and weakness central to the core of this story. As the playwright says, “there is a thin line between respectable citizens and criminals”. This is not an easy play to pull off but Gold manages to bring out the best in her actors.
HP&P’s production of AN INSPECTOR CALLS runs through September 27th.
AN INSPECTOR CALLS
Written by J.B. Priestley
September 11 – 27 2014
Haddonfield Plays & Players
957 E Atlantic Ave
Haddonfield, NJ 08033