Review "That Was Then": Past and Present Collide to Change People

Seanachai Theatre Company presents


At Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox  

Written by Gerard Stembridge

Directed by Carolyn Klein

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm

Sundays at 3pm

Thru April 3rd

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Running Time:  One hour and forty-five minutes includes a ten minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Contemporary vs traditional.  British vs Irish.  Present vs past.  Two dinner parties center around asking for money.  The suppers occur five years apart and simultaneously on stage.  Seanachai Theatre Company presents the Midwest premiere of THAT WAS THEN.  In a split stage, two different suppers are being interacted.  On the left, Dublinites Noel and Mary need a loan from their guests.  On the right, Brits Julian and June need a loan from their guests.  During the first few scenes, it becomes apparent that it’s a reciprocated request past and present.  In the past, Noel is a raging blusterous alcoholic.  In the present, he is a sober repenter.  In the past, Julian is a cocky success.  In the present, he is a blathering mess.  When the spoon is on the other side, who gets helped?  THAT WAS THEN is an interesting depiction of times changing people.

Under the masterful direction of Carolyn Klein, the cast does a double-take for then and now.   For the first act, the two couples are separated in their own realms with moments of shared dialogue cohesion.  In the second act, they are playing out together two different moments in time.  It’s a fascinating observation that is completely comprehensive because of each actor’s distinctions. Ira Amyx (Noel) goes extreme as a drunken blowhard-then vs confident businessman-now.  Amyx is hilarious pivoting back and forth between being an offensive jackass to being a remorseful gentleman.  Joseph Wycoff (Julian) is haughty patronizing vs guy-on-the-edge.  Wycoff plays secure and weak with strength.  Sarah Wellington (June) has a more subtle transition in the aging process.  Even though her character shifts only ever so slightly, Wellington still identifies the change in time with an exaggerated hair flip.  Her facial expressions to Molly Glynn’s (May) housewife requests are hilarious.  Glynn is stuck in the past with an old-fashioned simplicity and enabling innocence.  Anne Sunseri (April) is a delightful flashy now alternative.     


Watching the mechanics of this play are an intriguing experience.  Mary and Julian are on stage puttering before the show starts.  Because the set design (Robert Groth and Jenniffer Thusing) has a seamless look, it’s not apparent that they aren’t in the same house.  Once Noel and June come home, the segregation is obvious and inspiring.  Playwright Gerard Stembridge knows how to tell a story to peak interest.  What the story is was less clear to me?  The ‘wrongdoings’ didn’t quite make cents for me.  The currency exchange was confusing. Despite this monetary translation speed bump, THAT WAS THEN is a this is now play with fascinating logistics. 

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