Corrections or additions?
This review was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 15,
1999. All rights reserved.
Review: `Inspecting Carol’
Inspecting Carol," the Christmas comedy running
through Sunday, December 19, at Bristol Riverside Theater, has three
parents. But it is not likely to supplant its forebears any time soon.
Written collaboratively by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory
Company, this play with much potential but a weak script is directed
by BRT’s producing director, Susan D. Atkinson.
Obviously the first of "Inspecting Carol’s" three parents
is Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol," that instantly successful
novel that has reached near mythic status as a play, movie, and
show. The second, written in Russia of the 1830s, is Nikolai Gogol’s
satirical and hilarious play, "The Inspector General,"
the corruption of bribable, provincial officials. The third is Michael
Frayn’s "Noises Off," popular farce about the backstage antics
and liaisons of a troupe rehearsing a play called "Noises On."
But like any child, "Inspecting Carol" makes the fusion its
Like Gogol’s play, "Inspecting Carol" gives us a man who is
taken for a government official (here someone from the National
for the Arts coming to inspect a financially desperate Midwestern
theater company). And as in Gogol, he is to come incognito. But while
Gogol’s play turns on the mistaken identity, most of "Inspecting
Carol" deals with the backstage (portrayed here before stage)
behavior and liaisons of the play’s actors. In Gogol, the real
arrives (offstage) at the end. In "Inspecting Carol," the
real government inspector arrives midway in the second of two acts.
With her (strike one for feminism) appearance (Sharon Alexander plays
NEA inspector Betty Andrews), the troupe’s Dickens’ production,
funny in rehearsal, becomes a hilarious comedy-satire.
Yet before all this, for one and one-half acts, the play is boring,
the humor is mostly flat. Suppository jokes, and an instruction to
actors to "place your (imaginary) lemon between your buttocks
and squeeze," are unfunny, even tasteless. True, some of the lines
are funny by themselves: "They don’t have wet dreams in
or, "Of course we’re broke, we’re an arts organization," as
are some situations. Among these situations is Larry’s, the
Scrooge (Edward Keith Baker): since his messy divorce he lives without
furniture, towels, or toilet paper. But these facts have nothing to
do with the identity or position of the supposed inspector. And while
Zorah (Bethe B. Austin) does a sexily-costumed job of trying to seduce
this supposed inspector, nothing more is made of it.
And for an act and a half the play lacks real, convincing conflict.
It is not enough to sustain the play that the theater company is in
dire financial straits. Nor that an unknown walk-in wants an audition.
He wants to be an actor? They simply cast him and then disregard his
BRT is a hard-working company of talented actors, including the
actor-director, Edward Keith Baker. But for most of "Inspecting
Carol" — indeed until the redeeming final scenes — this
play is, to borrow an image from one of its props, a turkey. As one
of the characters, Wayne Wellacre (Norman Large), the would-be
inspector, says during the company’s "Christmas Carol"
and this reviewer could only echo (for the majority of the play),
"Who in God’s name wrote this stinker, anyway?"
It is only in the final scenes, when the company stages its annual
"Christmas Carol," that "Inspecting Carol" takes off.
Here nearly everything that can go wrong does. Luther (Charlie Saxton)
has left suddenly for another job, leaving the production with no
Tiny Tim. So the adult Wellacre now plays Tiny, hilariously carried
on by Phil (Paul L. Nolan) wearing a back brace. (His back is already
strained from carrying the departed Luther as the overgrown Tiny.)
Walter-as-ghost, forgets his lines, Marley (Joe Tranchitella) has
his chains caught on an offstage light, Larry gets socked in the
by a pop-up tombstone, and finally the stage set falls apart. The
play has become farce — and a funny one.
Susan Atkinson has done an commendable job of pacing and of keeping
the cast moving in Nick Embree’s imaginative set, some of it wackily
tilted, promising comedy. Janet Embree’s lighting is precisely suited.
And the costumes, by Holly Graham, are appropriate. Costumes for
(the company’s token African American, well played by Derrick Eason)
are especially inspired; two of the costumes spark audience laughter
before the actor says a word. And the stunning, regal costume for
the all-powerful government inspector, dramatized in the final dumb
show as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, is gorgeous.
The play does touch on and lampoon some contemporary issues —
multiculturalism, concern for the environment, for the Third World.
But does the latter fit? And would NEA inspector Betty Andrews, given
her assessment of the play, pass out? Well, that’s our inspection.
— Joan Crespi
215-785-0100. $25 to $29. Through Sunday, December 19.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.