Theater Preview: AN INSPECTOR CALLS (The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 5, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


An Inspector Calls was first performed in 1945 at a time of great change — both World Wars were fresh in the minds of the people, women had become more prominent in the workplace, and it was possible to be class mobile, which is the idea that people can move upwards in class through educational success or otherwise.

But this play is set in 1912, which means that the characters have no knowledge of either war. Playwright J.B. Priestley uses this to make important points about society and responsibility — all the while using dramatic irony, which is when the audience knows something the characters don’t. Priestley’s play is both timely and timeless: Its exposure of hypocrisy and inequality is as relevant today as it ever could be — and it opens at Chicago Shakespeare for a short run, February 19 through March 10, 2019.

The less said about the plot of this moral thriller, the better. Simply, Inspector Goole arrives unexpectedly at the prosperous Birling family home; their peaceful dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the apparent suicide of a young woman.

Priestley was fascinated with the science of time itself, so while his plays were ahead of their time — so to speak — they are a bit creaky melodramatic-wise (see Stage and Cinema‘s review of his Time and the Conways). Before Stephen Daldry became an acclaimed film director (Billy Elliot, The Hours) he created a production of An Inspector Calls at the National Theatre that was credited with reinvigorating the play and making it relevant for a modern-day audience. The image of the mysterious Inspector half-lit by a streetlamp became an emblem, appearing on programs and posters for productions all over the globe.

For more than two decades, the production toured the world, making it the longest running revival of a play in history (the revival of Chicago is nipping at its heels). In November 2016, Daldry’s production returned again to London’s West End, followed by an international tour. If this incarnation is even a hint of the original, fasten your seat belts for some suspenseful, insightful, inventive theater.

Daldry’s production — now a one-act — was a radical departure from conventional stagings of the play. Priestley always intended his play to be staged in a way which would make the most of its symbolism. Designer Ian MacNeil substituted the fusty suburban drawing-room set and plodding dialogue of earlier productions with a boldly non-naturalistic set. Visually stunning, MacNeil’s set — a small Edwardian manor that opens up like a doll house as the Inspector draws each of the characters down into the street to be questioned — was a metaphor for Priestley’s dramatic process whereby each member of the Birling family is interrogated about their culpability in the poor girl’s death.

The message, that we are all responsible for each other, was as resonant for a 1992 audience as it had been in 1945, and I promise it will be the same for you. But see it before anyone gives away just how this spectacular production unfolds.

photos by Mark Douet

An Inspector Calls
A WorldStage Production from the UK
International Tour
The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare
plays February 19 — March 10, 2019
for tickets, call 312.595.5600 or visit Chicago Shakes

for more info, visit INSPECTOR CALLS

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