But then you notice that some things about this dining room are a bit off. In Everyman Theatre’s smart, stylish production, the room sits on a platform, disconnected from its surroundings. And the fleur de lis designs on the wallpaper are oddly oversized and covered in thick Plexiglas.
The action, set in 1912, begins normally enough in this British play by J. B. Priestley. The Birlings, an upper middle class Yorkshire family, are celebrating daughter Sheila’s engagement to aristocratic Gerald Croft. They couldn’t be happier. Then the doorbell rings.
A police inspector arrives. He wants to question them about the suicide of a young working class woman.
Are they implicated? Are we all implicated?
Sophie Hinderberger and Chris Genebach are top-notch as Sheila and the Inspector. Hinderberger’s Sheila starts out naïve and sheltered, but she understands where this is leading well before anyone else.
And Genebach’s gruff Inspector is spot on as he moves from folksy to frightening. With his socio-political biases and grasp of psychology, this Inspector makes Sheila’s industrialist father and fiancé increasingly uneasy.
Bruce Randolph Nelson portrays Sheila’s father as a social-climbing windbag. And Jamison Foreman plays her fiancé as a gentleman accustomed to being deferred to. Both take umbrage at the Inspector’s manner and inferences.
The production is directed by Baltimore native Noah Himmelstein, in an impressive Everyman debut. Himmelstein tosses in a few clues that the Inspector’s inquiries may not be what they seem. As the determined detective questions each person, the lights lower and music is heard. Instead of a glaring interrogation lamp, there’s an otherworldly feel.
London’s Royal National Theatre produced a high-profile, high-concept revival of “An Inspector Calls” in 1992. It referenced not only 1912, when the play takes place, but also the war-torn 1940s, when the play was written, and the political climate in 1990s England, when it was revived.
Director Himmelstein and his designers incorporate some minor mystical touches into the play. Their overall approach, however, is fairly conventional. Himmelstein and set designer Timothy Mackabee, by the way, are alums of the Carver Center for Arts and Technology.
With fewer flourishes, the play’s didacticism has nowhere to hide. And a scenic effect at the end – similar to one in the original staging of “Cabaret” – overstates the play’s pertinence to modern audiences.
But heavy-handed though the play’s message about social responsibility may be, it is still pertinent. And, with the exception of that final overstated effect, Everyman’s slick production smooths over the script’s clunky moralizing.
You’ll walk away relieved not to have been the Birlings’ dinner guest. But you’ll be glad to have spent a few hours observing this polished take on a vintage play – a skillful launch for Everyman’s 25th anniversary season.