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The Tony-winning director returns to Broadway with Time and the Conways
Fresh off winning a 2017 Tony Award for her Broadway debut Indecent, director Rebecca Taichman is helming another period piece: J.B. Priestley's Time and the Conways, currently in previews at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre. Although the works are totally different -- Indecent was an original play with music partially performed in Yiddish while Time and the Conways is a revival of a 1937 British family drama -- they do have one striking commonality: time-hopping. Both span multiple decades of the first half of the 20th century, and examine how time and history impact the characters' lives.
"As I get older, the question of memory and how you understand the march forward in time becomes a more profound question," says Taichman. "How do I understand my own aging? How do you perceive it as a beautiful progression rather than a slow loss? Those questions that the play is asking about how we move through our lives feel more resonant now than they did even three years ago."
Three years ago is when Taichman first directed the show at The Old Globe in San Diego, though with a different cast. The Roundabout production stars Elizabeth McGovern (of Downton Abbey fame) as the matriarch of the Conways, an upper-middle class British clan whose fortunes change drastically between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II as they discover the pitfalls of their own greed and narcissism. That certainly sounds pretty timely, and Taichman says she doesn't need to do much to underline the play's parallels to today. "I had been asking myself: How can I pull forward the political resonances? But I'm finding that the play resists pushing too hard in any direction," she admits. "It has great subtlety and nuance, so when I push I can feel it yell at me: 'Just trust what I am.'"
Since the play takes a massive jump in time, Taichman has been mindful of giving audiences aesthetic cues so they know where -- or rather when -- they are. She worked with set designer Neil Patel, who also did The Old Globe production, to create two more or less identical incarnations of the same living room, with the earlier one always visible behind the later one, showing literally that the past never leaves us. "I don't think I could have done the play again without this idea," she says. "It's so inherent to how I think about and understand the show."
At the risk of sharing a spoiler, an offstage death occurs between the Acts, yet that character remains onstage throughout, effectively "living" in the first set. In the years between the two productions, Taichman also lost a family member, so she says this longing for the past now hits home in a more personal way. "The hope is to invite the audience to feel how the energy of those we love who are no longer here are still visceral in their persistence and presence in unexplained but very profound ways," she says.
As for how time is impacting Taichman, well, like the Conways and all of us, she can't predict what the future holds. But she does know that, in the present, many in the theatre industry are watching her career closely, especially since she's only the sixth woman to win the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play. "It's all very new," she says in terms of having so many eyes on her work. "I'm figuring out slowly what it means."
Katie Lindsay and Rebecca Taichman during a rehearsal of Time and the Conways. Photos by Jenny Anderson.