They Came to a City

By J.B.Priestley
Directed by Ken Bachtold
Spotlight On Productions
Pulse Theatre
432 West 42nd St. (532-8887)
Non-union production (closes June 25)
Review by Sheila Mart

They Came to a City, one of Priestley's early plays, received a handsome production by Spotlight On Productions and was skillfully directed by Ken Bachtold. Like many of Priestley's plays, this one conjures up a fantasy that explores human behavior in a way that is often predictable, yet still fascinating. Nine eclectic characters are suddenly and unaccountably thrown together, into a strange place - one character even wonders if they're still alive. They are trapped - unable to go back as they don't know how they arrived, and unable to go forward because of this huge iron door facing them that they have all tried unsuccessfully to open.

While the characters are trying to figure out how to resolve this situation, the audience learns a lot about the background of the various characters, who represent all classes of human society. The classes here, as in most English plays, are defined by breeding (family connections) as well as money, with the so-called upper classes having the bulk of the latter. There is an aristocrat, Sir George Gadney (Bob Curren), who is stronger on title than actual cash and in the same money class, Fred Cudworth (Frank Malvasi) who is stronger on cash - being a self-made business man - and lacks title. Others in this melee include an aristocratic mother and daughter, an upper-middle-class married couple, a lower-class young waitress, a down-to-earth middle-aged woman and an American outside observer who aspires to be a revolutionary, but is also a symbolic commentator who wants to show people how they should live and relate to everyone.

Eventually the door mysteriously opens and through the mist they begin to see what appears to be an ideal city. Gradually, with varying degrees of trepidation, preconceived ideas, and cynicism, they all pass through the door to discover and experience this dreamlike place. Without giving away any more plot, suffice to say that some of the characters stay in this Utopia and some choose to go back to their old life.

For the most part the performances were uniformly credible. The talented actors all managed to find the different levels that Mr. Priestley had imbued in each of the characters. However, there was a problem with the English accents - they were not sustained and a few of them, notably Curren, Regina Dreyer Thomas (the aristocratic mother Lady Loxfield), and Maitreya Friedman (her daughter Philippa Loxfield), were really forcing too hard. Stephanie Schmiderer (the upper-middle-class wife Dorothy Stritton) and Shawn Scott (her husband Malcolm), Stacey Linnartz (Alice Foster the young waitress), Stephen Voutsas (the American Joe Dinmore) all did commendable character work. There were two outstanding performances: from Susan Scudder (the down-to-earth middle-aged woman Mrs. Batley) and Malvasi Fred Cudworth (notwithstanding the fact that the characters were written winners).

Ken Bachtold's direction was intelligent, very smooth, and well-paced.

The lighting, sound and music of Louis Lopardi contributed greatly to the mood of the piece; Tommy Barz, with Susan Scudder's contributions, produced a stylish set; the costumes, courtesy of the cast, worked well.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Sheila Mart