Seanachai’s production of Gerard Stembridge’s “That Was Then” presents us with an extremely witty, fast paced and erudite comedy of manners and the complete lack thereof. It tackles the contemporary relationship between Ireland and Great Britain through the filter of the classic conflict between Old and New Rich.
The play takes place in two different timeframes. The first is the late 1990’s, when an indebted, alcoholic Dublin developer, Noel, (Ira Amyx) and his saintly suffering wife May (Molly Glynn), host a husband and wife team of English financial consultants, June and Julian (Sarah Wellington and Joseph Wycoff) for dinner. Noel hopes they will loan him a substantial amount of money, but instead of attempting to charm them, he drunkenly reacts to their condescension by launching into a profane, vicious tirade. In the end, June and Julian acquiesce, but do so as an insult.
Five years later, June and Julian are the ones in desperate straits. Their business has gone under and they owe massive amounts in taxes. Meanwhile, as Ireland has become Europe’s ascendant economic power, Noel has prospered and seemingly become a changed man, now an even tempered, recovering alcoholic with a younger woman (Anne Sunseri) replacing his former wife. June and Julian hope that this kinder, gentler Noel will repay their favor.
The play cleverly jumps back and forward between the timeframes, sometimes in mid-sentence, Noel will be soft spoken and sober in one second, and jump right back into his drunken rant in the very next.
These five actors and their director have infused this intelligent show with great comic energy and chemistry.
The show serves as a reminder of the ancient folk wisdom that wealth and power are most often transitory things, whether for individuals or for nations. What goes up must come down.