"An Inspector Calls" opened in the Soviet Union in 1945 after producers were unable to find a suitable theater in the United Kingdom so soon after the surrender of Germany ended World War II in Europe. The irony of premiering in Moscow and Leningrad could hardly have escaped its author, English dramatist J.B. Priestley, whose political sympathies aligned with socialist causes.
Mistreatment of the proletariat by the privileged class becomes shockingly evident in this deft abridged version of Priestley's best-known play, smartly directed by Sarah Hunnewell for the Hampton Theatre Company.
We meet the prosperous Birlings in their upper-class English dining room (Peter-Tolin Baker's richly appointed set) on the occasion of their daughter's engagement to a scion of another prominent family. Arthur, the Birling patriarch, speaks glibly of "peace and prosperity." The time is 1912, before The Great War to End All Wars. They've barely finished their toasts when Inspector Goole is announced. Played by Edward Brennan with peremptory authority burnished by an accusatory glare, Goole is investigating the suicide of Eva Smith. He shows Eva's photograph to each Birling and their prospective in-law. They all, apparently, played a role in circumstances that led to the working-class girl's demise.
Arthur, played with imperious bluster by Daren Kelly, fired Eva in a labor dispute amounting to three shillings a week. She finds another job in a dress shop where bride-to-be Sheila got her fired over a misperceived slight. Next, it's Gerald's turn. Sheila's fiance met Eva, aka Daisy, at a bar. Struck by her beauty, Gerald kept her as a mistress before breaking it off. Sybil, the matriarch, portrayed by Susan Galardi with the brittle entitlement of a woman whose social station outranks her husband's, denied Eva the charity she desperately sought. Last to be interrogated is Eric, the Birlings' youngest, whose drunken behavior was the final blow in their shared assault on Eva.
But is Goole who he appears to be? And have the Birlings learned any lessons? Certainly not the elders. But Amanda Griemsmann's Sheila convinces us with tearful remonstrations that there's hope for the younger generation. Gerald, still the hopeful suitor as played as Anthony Famulari, and even dissolute Eric (Spencer Scott) are resolutely remorseful.
Yet whenever you think you have it figured out, "Inspector" throws another curve.
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 8, Hampton Theatre Company at Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Ave.
TICKETS $30, $10 students; 631-653-8955, hamptontheatre.org