23 May 2017

'The Roundabout'

In my last play report (“The Little Foxes,” posted on 13 May), I confessed to a fondness for the old-time well-made plays of the middle of the last century, and I named several American playwrights whose works I particularly enjoy.  I wasn’t thinking trans-Atlanticly at the time I wrote that report, so let me amend my statement to include some British writers of the same era: Noël Coward, John Osborne, Emlyn Williams, and Terrence Rattigan (in small doses).  Some of J. B. Priestley’s plays fall into this grouping (An Inspector Calls; Time and the Conways), so when I got an announcement for the 59E59 Theaters’ presentation of Priestley’s The Roundabout as part of the production house’s annual Brits Off Broadway series (4 April through 2 July this year), I suggested to my frequent theater companion, Diana, that we consider seeing it.  (Diana is much more attracted to this kind of material than am I.  She likes art that follows rules.)

So, on Friday evening, 12 May, Diana and I met at the theater complex on East 59th Street between Park and Madison Avenues for the 8 p.m. curtain of Priestley’s 1931 comedy of manners, the play’s long-delayed U.S. première production.  The co-production of three London theater troupes, the Cahoots Theatre Company, the Other Cheek, and the Park Theatre, started previews in Theater A, the 196-seat house of the three-theater venue, on 20 April and opened to the press on 30 April; the visiting production was due to close on 20 May.  (The same show, with one cast change, ran at the Park Theatre in London from 24 August to 24 September 2016.) 

The Roundabout is a recently rediscovered Priestley play, written in 1931 as a vehicle for a 24-year-old Peggy Ashcroft (1907-91; later made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or CBE, in 1956), but the playwright didn’t finish the script.  (The Roundabout was written a year before the playwright’s first West End success, Dangerous Corner.  In other words, it was a tyro effort.)  The next year, Roundabout was produced at the Playhouse Liverpool (without Ashcroft) for its Christmas season and was subsequently mounted at various regional theaters around the U.K, but it was never performed in London until the 2016 co-production at the Park, where the play, in its first U.K. revival since 1932, was generally well received.  (Especially well reviewed was the performance of Bessie Carter, an up-and-coming young actress, in the role Priestley intended for Ashcroft.  Carter is the only member of the British troupe who stayed behind in England, replaced here by Emily Laing.)  The presentation at 59E59 is the play’s only U.S. production on record, making it the U.S. première. 

Found by Hugh Ross, director of the current production, in his father’s collection of Priestley books and papers, The Roundabout: A Comedy in Three Acts had been published in London by Samuel French in 1933, an edition that’s long been out of print, and has now been republished by Oberon Books (London, 2017; also available as a NOOK e-book).  Not only has the play never been filmed (not surprising, given its stage history), but I also found no record of a television version, even in Britain—so there’s no video of The Roundabout

John Boynton Priestley (1894-1984) was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England.  In his nearly-90-year life, he became world famous as an novelist, playwright, essayist, broadcaster, scriptwriter, social commentator, and man of letters, whose career spanned the 20th century.  Many of his writings are leftist and critical of the British government (though The Roundabout makes targets of humor of both the aristocracy and communists.)  The writer chastised George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) in a 1941 essay in Horizon for the older playwright’s support of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (at the time, a partner with Hitler in a German-Soviet non-aggression pact); in 1949, however, George Orwell (1903-1950) put Priestley on his list of writers he considered too left-leaning to be allowed to write for the government’s anti-communist propaganda agency.  

As a newspaper columnist and critic, Priestley covered a variety of subjects and his writing revealed his anti-materialism and anti-mechanization.  His many published works include the novels Good Companions (1929) and Angel Pavement (1930), and the plays Time and the Conways (1937), When We Are Married (1938), and An Inspector Calls (1945), to name just a few of his many titles.  (Though The Roundabout is a rather straightforward well-made play structurally, as you’ll see, the plays that came after are experimental, particularly in terms of the depiction of  time.)  Priestley’s other books include the autobiographical Margin Released (1962),  Man and Time (1964), Essays of Two Decades (1968), The Edwardians (1970), and The English (1973).  He declined a peerage in 1965 and a knighthood in 1969, but accepted the Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.  He died on 14 August 1984 at the age of 89 (one month before his 90th birthday). Among his many awards and honors is a larger-than-life-sized bronze statue, commissioned after the writer’s death by the city of Bradford and unveiled in 1986 in front of the National Media Museum in Priestley’s hometown.  Priestley’s 1935 play Cornelius, also little known, was presented in Brits Off Broadway in 2013.

The playwright’s son, Tom (born the year The Roundabout débuted), said his father “described [the play] as ‘a very light comedy . . . a little less intellectually negligible than most very light comedies.’  Now at last,” Tom Priestley added, “we have a chance to judge.”  It’s a two-hour-and-20-minute three-acter, played here as two acts, with acts one and two combined, and it’s got an almost impossible plot to describe—all about the British aristocracy and commies (now there’s a combo!).  One New York reviewer quoted on the poster compared it to “the wit of Oscar Wilde, the frivolity of Coward, and the saltiness of Shaw” sort of all gemischt.  (Another proclaimed that “it is really a 1930’s rewrite of Shaw’s pre-W.W. I comedy Heartbreak House reset at the beginning of the Great Depression with versions of all the same characters,” but that’s a huge stretch.)  As Tom Priestley said, now we’ll see. 

The play’s set on a Saturday afternoon in 1931, a time when the British economy was in freefall as a consequence of the early days of the Great Depression.  Even among leftists—remembering that Priestley was a socialist—belief in the Soviet Union had eroded because of news of Stalin’s show trials.  The playwright attempted to weave these world-shaking occurrences together by depicting a farcically hectic day at the country house of Lord Richard Kettlewell (Brian Protheroe), a wealthy investor.  First, his portfolio is now virtually worthless, a situation he finds laughable.  Second, the house is invaded by all manner of mostly uninvited—and largely unwelcome—visitors who all decide to stay for lunch.  Already in residence is Alec Grenside (Ed Pinker), a young artist recommended by Kettlewell’s estranged wife to decorate some panels in the manor, and old friend Churton “Chuffy” Saunders (Hugh Sachs), a classic society hanger-on (and the only visitor who’s actually been invited) with a ready tongue and a sharp wit (think Oscar Wilde manqué).  Soon to show up unexpectedly are the daughter, Pamela (Emily Laing), he hasn’t seen in 10 years, now a devoted communist who’s been in the USSR working in a candy factory—terrible candy, by the way, says Pamela (though I found Soviet hard candy pretty good when I had a taste of it some 50-odd years ago)—and her companion and fellow ideologue who goes by the designation of Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley). 

Arriving as expected with some papers is Kettlewell’s secretary, a very young and callow Farrington Gurney (Charlie Field in his professional stage debut)—who just happens to conceive an immediate crush on Pamela.  They’re followed by the former grand dame of the neighborhood, Lady Knightsbridge (Richenda Carey), who circulates among the other local peers looking for employment for her lately straitened aristo friends, and Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks), Kettlewell’s current mistress whom he’s about to jettison as a money-saving move and who’s come in response to the letter Kettlewell sent to . . . well, dump her.  Pamela reveals that she’s also invited her mother, Lady Kettlewell (Lisa Bowerman), from whom His Lordship’s been separated for several years; it’s an announcement he doesn’t relish.  Rounding out the crowded household are Kettlewell’s two servants, his butler, Parsons (Derek Hutchinson), and the parlor maid, Alice (Annie Jackson), two of the most upright souls you’re ever likely to meet.  As Shaw pointed out, after all, the middle and working classes have the stronger sense of propriety—afflicted, as the great Irish playwright put it, with bourgeois morality; the poor and the aristocracy are less burdened since the poor can’t afford to have morals and the gentry are above such petty concerns.

Priestley’s portrait of a Depression-era dysfunctional extended family descends quickly into what I can only describe as a French farce as written by Wilde with a side of Shavian-lite political and social commentary, all enacted in the style of a Cowardy comedy of manners.  The drawing-room set may not have quite five doors (there are only three portals—no actual doors), but it might as well have with all the coming and going.  (A roundabout, by the way, is British English for both a merry-go-round and a traffic circle.)  Comrade Staggles, who looks like a prototypical commie student with round, steel-rimmed glasses, a student cap, work boots, and a scraggly beard, can’t help himself from making passionate advances to any woman he meets, from soon-to-be ex-mistress Lancicourt to housemaid Alice—none of whom will have any of it.  Lancicourt and Lady Kettlewell take every opportunity to button-hole His Lordship, as does his daughter, whose commitment to communism is more adolescent rebellion (she’s 22) than Leninist-Marxist conviction.  Young Gurney, the secretary, is Red Pam’s opposite number on the capitalist side of the debate—and he has a streak of schoolboy braggadocio that leads to a bout of fisticuffs in the garden with Staggles.  When Lady Knightsbridge learns that Kettlewell’s daughter is a communist, her immediate response is to inquire, “Is there any money in it?”  Chuffy, who has no reason to be anywhere in particular, pops in and out to deliver amusing, but lightweight aphorisms—though they’re still the best lines in the play!  In fact, Chuffy’s the best part in the play, with butler Parsons, who, with Alice, make frequent appearances both in pursuit of their household duties and to roil the overloaded plot.  (Parsons reminded me a little of William, the waiter in Shaw’s You Never Can Tell.)

In the end, little has changed on the socio-political front: the aristos are still aristos and their hangers-on are still hanging on, perhaps mildly chastened, and the servants remain servants.   A subplot that might have upset this order when Parson seems to have won a fortune on a sweepstakes race falls apart on a contrivance—Priestley seems to have chickened out.  Comrade Staggles comes to enjoy the luxuries wealth—and a little (too much) high-end brandy—provide.  The real conclusion is that old lovers are reunited as Mère and Père Kettlewell, maneuvered by Pamela, discover  their separation was a mistake--and new lovers, Pamela and the handsome young artist, Alec, turn out to have known each other all along and are brought together probably by the connivance of Pamela’s mother (who, you remember, sent Grenside to her husband in the first scene).

You got all that?  (And that’s just a précis.  I can’t manage a detailed retelling—and you couldn’t follow it if I did.)  It is a day, to paraphrase Lady Bracknell, crowded with incident.

I found the play mildly amusing, but not outright hilarious, though Diana liked it.  It’s more silly frippery than pointed comedy and the comparisons with Wilde, Coward, and Shaw are more about surface appearances than dramaturgical substance.  It doesn’t help that the topics Priestley is covering in The Roundabout are tied to the play’s time—the Depression, the potential of social change in Britain between the World Wars, the surge in popularity of Soviet communism before the revelations of the Stalinist atrocities—which doesn’t speak so much to our era.  This renders the Brits Off Broadway presentation more a curious look back, both at a period of British playwriting and at the work of one particular playwright of that time who’s less often produced than some of his peers, than a noteworthy experience in the theater.

I also feel that the comedy here’s played wrong.  The actors all approach the play more like Coward than anything else.  (Chuffy Saunders so resembles Wilde that I have to believe Priestley intentionally drew the portrait.  The somewhat stout Sachs plays him as slightly fey, in the vein of a certain stereotype of the effete aristo, which only reinforces the impression.)  The approach is flippant—all the earnest commie speechifying, is off-hand and light—but I think if it were played as if the characters—Laing’s Pamela and Blakeley’s Staggles are the two on that side of the ledger—were in earnest, it’d be funnier, especially in 2017.  I mean, how can anyone actually believe what the Bolshies were spouting back in the ’30s?  Really? 

The aristos probably should still be superficial—it suits them, especially when they’re all concerned about losing their money in the Depression.  (Here’s a coincidence: I just saw a play from the same decade about the merchant class gaining wealth, and now a play about the upper class losing it!  Both were written by left-leaning dramatists, though one author was an American woman and the other a British man, and one’s a melodrama and the other a farce—and the plays are set in different eras, 30 years apart.)  The two servants in the home, Hutchinson’s Parsons and Jackson’s Alice, seem to get the style for their characters just right, however.  As a result, they, plus the Wildean Chuffy, are the best in the ensemble, and the most memorable characters.

Once again, I was dealing with an ensemble cast—this one not as tightly blended as Daniel Sullivan’s Little Foxes company or Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Jitney cast.  Like Little Foxes, however, two characters dominate the plot, Lord Kettlewell and Pamela, so Protheroe and Laing maintain the audience’s focus as the other characters swirl around them, weaving in and out of the narrative.  Protheroe’s a tad stiff as His Lordship, which lends an air of incredibility to the character’s protestations of encroaching poverty.  Protheroe’s physical characterization and his line delivery never vary much, making Kettlewell seem programmed rather than reactive.  Laing makes Pamela a flibbertigibbet, which is fine in context, and she has a slight overbite that gives her the appearance of a mischievous little girl.

Sachs has such a good time with Chuffy that it’s hard to find fault with the character—so I won’t.  He has all the best lines and the actor delivers them with delicious panache.  Of course, Chuffy has no reason to be in the play except to accomplish this—but, then, a real-life Churton Saunders would have been superfluous, too, except to amuse his hosts and keepers.  Blakeley couldn’t be more type-cast as Staggles—even without the beard and the glasses he looks like central casting’s idea of a student commie, a cross between Vladimir Lenin and John Lennon.  His sincerity as a communist might be questionable in this performance, but his neediness as a young man who clearly never fit in in any social circle is demonstrable.  Staggles’s opposite number in a sense is Field’s Farrington Gurney, as impetuous a fellow as you’re likely to meet anywhere (well, except maybe today’s White House, but that’s a different matter).  Field, who bears a remarkable resemblance to comedian Craig Kilbourne, plays Gurney as slightly dull-witted but open-faced: he doesn’t think deeply, but he feels strongly.  (He’d probably be labeled an incipient upper-class twit, if Priestley were that way inclined.)

So far, the characters are all from the period comedy of manners stock company; you’ve met them many times before in one play or movie or another—and the performances, while sturdy, are quite in line with expectations.  At the outset, the same holds true for Kettlewell’s two servants, Parsons and Alice.  Then Parsons gets word that he’s picked the winner in the sweepstakes and will come into a small fortune.  He appears drunk to inform Lord Kettlewell he’ll be leaving the estate’s service.  (He wants to buy a country house to convert into a weekend hotel, and Kettlewell immediately offers to sell the nascent entrant to the middle class his own manor.)  All of a sudden, Hutchinson transforms from a stock character actor into an intriguing figure with a backstory and an inner life we hadn’t seen hint of before.  Alas, it only lasts one scene, as Priestley contrives to pull the rug out from under poor Parsons with some nonsense about the government’s deciding precipitously that the prize is too much for the economy to bear and canceling it, making a Tantalus out of the unhappy butler, shown the promised land of entrepreneurship and swiftly returned to domestic service.  Hutchinson makes the double character shift with assurance and credibility within the context of the play.  Would that Priestley had braved the uncertainties and gone with the reversal of fortune.  It might have been great fun.

Polly Sullivan, credited as the production’s designer, appears to have been responsible for both the set (lit by David Howell) and the costumes (supervised by Holly Henshaw), and both were fine—the clothing more revealing than the scenery.  The costumes were appropriate to the period and the individual characters, from Pamela’s and Staggles’s proletarian worker-attire to the three upper-class dames’ elegant country-afternoon dress, but the house’s furnishings seemed Spartan for a peer—unless we’re supposed to assume Kettlewell’s been selling off the furniture (or burning it for fuel).  Not only was Parsons called upon to move a chair about to accommodate visitors because there weren’t enough in the conversation hub, but these nobs, who’d certainly never deign to sit on a wooden bench except outdoors, often had to perch on what looked like long, low tables on either side of the drawing room; there was even a table lamp on each one to make it look like Kettlewell’s houseguests were sitting on narrow coffee tables.  Coward would surely shudder at the sight!  (I don’t know how big any of the three co-producing troupes is, but this is the kind of staging decision that often marks Off-Off-Broadway shows in New York.  Budget and space limitations are the usual rationale.)

Overall, The Roundabout was a pleasant evening in the theater—I can’t honestly say I didn’t enjoy the play or the performance; I’m glad I took the opportunity to see it.  I just feel that director Ross missed the boat a little on the presentation style.  (Of course, I could be way off base, but we’ll never know.)

Show-Score surveyed 25 reviews, but a number of them were for the London mounting.  On the basis of 17 reviews of the Brits Off Broadway production, the average rating as of 21 May was 69, of which 59% of the notices were positive, 23% were mixed, and 18% were negative.  The site’s high score was 90, of which there were three for the local production (including the New York Times) and the low score was 20 (for the website Woman Around Town).  I’ll be covering 13 notices in my round-up.

After observing in the Epoch Times that communism is “categorically the most deadly form of government ever,” Mark Jackson declared,

So it can safely be said that breezy debates about the virtues of communism versus capitalism, in a high-twit-factor, three-act, moldy British drawing-room comedy—already so second-rate in its inception that it’s only being revived now, after its abandonment in 1932—is hardly the place to do the topic justice.

Listing all the plot twists, Jackson asked, “Will you care about any of it?”  Despite “quite a talented cast,” the Epoch review-writer asserted, “The problem is that it’s just not terribly funny or impactful,” adding, “It’s quite a bland offering.”  Jackson, though, found one positive note in the play: “Priestley does get credit for presenting two communists [sic] types: the holier-than-thou Tartuffe-like scoundrel and the youthful idealist who swallows socialist rhetoric hook, line, and sinker.”  But even that accomplishment is incomplete: “Unfortunately, since the playwright’s social commentary extends to the lord and ladies as well, his apt criticism of the far left is so undercut as to be insipid.”  In conclusion, the Epochal reviewer wrote that “this particular genre of play doesn’t age well, but if you’re a huge fan of, say, ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ [sic] and, like Chuffy, pine for spatterdashes [we know them simply as ‘spats’] and top hats, you’ll enjoy ‘The Roundabout’ immensely.”  (I think Jackson has overthought this slight work, but that’s his take; his review received a 45 on Show-Score, one of three negative notices.  My only serious objection to his opinion is the implied disparagement of Wilde’s Earnest, one of my all-time favorite plays—the only play I’ve directed twice.  I’ve worn spats only once in my life, however—part of a costume for some period play I no longer remember.)

Andy Webster, in contrast, declared in the New York Times (which scored 90, you’ll recall), “This sparkling, impeccably staged play . . . will be catnip to ‘Downton Abbey’ devotees, with equal doses of humor and insight.”  The Timesman explained that “plot threads and characters abound” in the “social mosaic” of The Roundabout.  He warned, though, “Some period conventions creak.” but added that “the production is well served by its costume supervisor” and director Ross “adds a soupçon of farce to the percolating proceedings.”  Webster concluded, “Throughout, Priestley gently reminds us of the ephemerality of affluence” while his “words, with their generous, sympathetic regard for human nature, cast a binding glow over the production.”  The unnamed theater reviewer for the New Yorker’s “Goings On About Time” section described the play as “a classic roundelay, but instead of romantic shenanigans the comic intrigue turns on social, financial, and political concerns.”  The review-writer dubbed the cast “eleven accomplished farceurs” and singled out Carey as Lady Knightsbridge and, especially, Sachs “as a family friend whose every line pierces the hypocrisy around him, including his own.”

On Theatre’s Leiter Side, Samuel L. Leiter, noting that Hugh Ross’s production of The Roundabout is “smoothly staged,” found the play “offers enough nutrition for a band of first-rate thespians to feast on.”  Nonetheless, Leiter felt that “it’s still second-rate Priestley, far too long and chatty . . . for its wafer-thin, drawing room/romantic comedy plot, leavened by political satire.”  The TLS blogger added, “There’s some enjoyment to be derived from Priestley’s then timely and sometimes still pertinent observations on social and economic matters, but the relatively few laughs are mostly of the polite, muffled kind,” and “the first act tends to drag . . . with no real stakes established to keep us in suspense during the intermission.”  Leiter concluded that “the resurrection of Priestley’s comedy is mainly to be recommended for its acting.”  Howard Miller of Talkin’ Broadway reminded us (as I’ve said on occasion), “Not all resurrected and dusted-off plays from yesteryear reveal themselves to be glittering lost diamonds.”  He pronounced The Roundabout “a lovely garnet or topaz,” however, labeling it “a charming and well-performed work with an undercurrent of social criticism.”  The “well-oiled ensemble . . . does a fine job of keeping the lighter-than-air domestic comedy floating stylishly and smoothly.”  Though he found The Roundabout “a parade of comic turns in a play with the barest of plots,” Miller reported that “the fine-tuned performances by the entire cast . . . raises The Roundabout above the ordinary.”  He concluded, “While The Roundabout may not exactly be a newly rediscovered treasure unearthed from the good old days, it provides enough delights to make it well worth the visit,” adding that The Roundabout “is a must-see, a surprising, sojourn into the realm of lightweight comedy.” 

Describing the play as “a drawing-room comedy . . . in the style of [W. Somerset] Maugham, [Frederick] Lonsdale or Coward but with a bit more political content,” TheaterScene’s Gluck declared that The Roundabout “now seems rather dated and beside the point” after 85 years; even Ross’s “elegant and graceful production can’t disguise the fact that the play seems to be two generations late in arriving.”  The TS reviewer observed that though “the play seems to have something to say about economics and political systems, it is simply a very light romantic comedy” and Ross’s “production is quite proficient and fast-paced, but the characters are generic and we don’t learn much about them.”  Despite its “polished production,” The Roundabout is “little more than a dated drawing room comedy” which “pretends to be making a statement about British class structure and the economic and social changes.”  The play “ is both very lightweight and very much a period piece of an earlier age,” and though the “repartee is good . . ., the play is not particularly witty nor does it offer memorable one liners.”  On CurtainUp, Simon Saltzman reported, “Incessant flippant chatter is crisply deployed along with archaic social commentary in” The Roundabout, little “more than a passing, or perhaps passably socially aware divertissement.” 

Marina Kennedy dubbed The Roundabout “a truly charming play” on Broadway World and the “comings and goings of [the] colorful characters, the clash of social classes, and the fast-paced, clever dialogue create a totally entertaining and engaging theatrical experience.”  Ross’s “staging is superb and the show’s cast shines bright”; Kennedy reported, “You’ll love the cast of The Roundabout. They are funny, lively and authentic.”  Theater Pizzazz’s Rocamora quipped, “Unearthing old theatre gems is like digging for truffles—and British director Hugh Ross has found one”—though I’m not so sure making a comparison to a fungus is especially complimentary.  Dubbing the play “a long-lost treasure,” the Theater Pizzazz review-writer asserted that it “holds the promise of an entertaining comedy of manners—but delivers far more.”  She explained, “In the midst of all [the] frivolity, playwright Priestley offers a sharp, satirical birds-eye view of an anxious era when England’s social order is changing.” 

On Theatre Reviews Limited, David Roberts asserted that “the comedic stuff” of The Roundabout is the way the characters “collide with one another in deliciously hilarious flights of fantasy all the time challenging the decorum of polite society.”  “Under Hugh Ross’s well paced direction,” the TRL reviewer found, “the cast is uniformly engaging.”  He affirmed, “It is the unpredictability of [the] parallel story lines that makes ‘The Roundabout’ consummately entertaining,” though “Priestly chooses not to explore the issues he introduces with any depth.”  Roberts concluded that the play “is a delightful romp around the roundabout well worth the trip.”  In the other notice rated a negative 45, Theatre Is Easy’s Eleanor J. Bader said in her “Bottom Line” that The Roundabout is a “comedic, but inconsequential, look at upper class decadence and Communist sympathizers in 1930s Great Britain.”  It’s “played for laughs, rather than ideas,” asserted Bader, though she found Staggles and Gurney “obnoxious” for their “relentless womanizing” and “the play’s comedic impact . . . tempered by Priestley’s positioning of Pamela, Comrade Staggles, and Kettlewell as equally deluded.”  Furthermore, Bader found “the juxtaposition” of “the idealism and utopian dreams of young Communists with  the unscrupulous behavior of Kettlewell and his business associates” “maddening.”  Her conclusion was that “The Roundabout is well acted and well staged.  I wish that were enough, but it’s not.  Despite the still-timely reference to sexual misconduct, the play is dated; despite some terrific one-liners, its assets are insufficient to recommend what is ultimately a stale production.”

The lowest Show-Score rating was the 20 received by Alix Cohen’s notice on Woman Around Town.  Characterizing the play as “[o]stensibly a lightweight drawing room satire about changing social order,” Cohen asserted, “In the hands of George Bernard Shaw, we might’ve seen the classes spar with meaningful illumination.  Were the piece by Noel Coward, then it might’ve been sharply witty.”  Instead, she complained, “we’re subjected to a tedious two hours in the hands of milquetoast Kettlewell, almost-ran Chuffy, bratty, tantrum-throwing, mischief-making Pamela, and boorish, cliché Comrade Staggles.  (Other characters are frankly negligible.)”  Of the cast, Cohen asserted that “aside from flickers, those onstage range from poor to irritating to ho-hum”; “there’s not a flicker of character definition, actors often tune out when not speaking.”  The staging “is so heavy handed,” she found, “movement has no motivation except audience view, irony goes by practically unnoticed.”  Even the set “has no attractions” and the costumes, fine for the men, are “uniformly unflattering apparel for women.”

On the Huffington Post, David Finkle announces “great news”—first, because The Roundabout “has just resurfaced” and, second, because it’s been revived “in a grand production, directed exactly as it should be by Hugh Ross and with precisely the right cast.”  Characterizing the play as “a drawing room comedy not unlike others from the period,” Finkle continued: “Nevertheless, in its way it was already accomplished, and in its way it’s now dated.”  Then the HP reviewer added, “Dated, yes, but possessing the kind of charm those plays continue to hold, rather like the perfume of faded flowers.”  Summing up, Finkle affirmed:

The true value of The Roundabout is that it’s Priestley getting laughs at the expense of the upstart English who’ve jumped on the Communist bandwagon.  To some very large extent, he’s defanging the bear-toothed threat of the age, a threat he might have taken more seriously.  But if he had, The Roundabout wouldn’t be half the fun it is, and that excuses plenty.

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