Quogue’s Hampton Theatre Company has started off its 31st season strong with a suspenseful production of An Inspector Calls by British playwright J.B. Priestley.
Though this social critique debuted 70 years ago, Priestley’s indictment of the haut monde’s indifference to the plight of the working class is as impactful and relevant as ever.
Taking place in England at the home of the affluent and influential Birling family on April 15, 1912—the night the Titanic sank—An Inspector Calls opens pleasantly enough, as the family enjoys after-dinner drinks and toasts an engagement. Arthur Birling (Daren Kelly) and wife Sybil (Susan Galardi) are delighted their daughter, Sheila (Amanda Griemsmann), will marry Gerald Croft (Anthony Famulari), who himself is from a prosperous family. Their son, Eric, (Spencer Scott) is enjoying more drinks than he should, as he is wont to do.
The quiet evening is soon shaken up when the title character arrives to inquire about the suicide of a young woman. Immediately upon entry as the mysterious Inspector Goole, Edward Brennan commands the stage. Confident and purposeful, Goole is there for answers and it’s clear he won’t be going anywhere until he has them. But what could the Birlings and Gerald have to do with a woman who is beneath their station, and what could her suicide have to do with any of them? The audience sits rapt waiting to find out as Goole, in his deliberate and peculiar manner, subjects each individual, one-by-one, to an unsettling and accusatory line of questioning.
As much as the Birlings—and the audience—try to keep up, Goole always remains one step ahead, holding back what he knows until precisely the most impactful moment.
As the mystery unfolds, it’s clear that Priestley has packaged a message in this play: Have compassion.
Griemsmann excels as Sheila, who becomes the most visibly distraught Birling when it is her turn for Goole to give her a reality check. Brennan’s performance makes it easy to root for Goole, even when the inspector is smug or borderline mean-spirited.
Director Sarah Hunnewell, rightly, kept An Inspector Calls taut, with no lulls once Goole steps on stage and no chance for interest to wane.
The set by designer Peter-Tolin Baker and decorator Diana Marbury is gorgeous and makes the Quogue stage seem so much larger than it is, drawing the audience into the Birling dining room as the family members are forced to take hard looks at themselves.
An Inspector Calls runs through November 8 at the Quogue Community Hall on Jessup Avenue in Quogue. Showtimes are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 for general admission, $25 for seniors (65 and older), and $10 for students (21 and younger). Visit hamptontheatre.org, call 1-866-811-4111 or visit the box office a half hour before curtain.