Corrections or additions?
This review by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
December 9, 1998. All rights reserved.
Review: `Inspecting Carol’
What’s an NEA inspector — or a critic, for that
matter — to do? Theatrical standards are falling, playwriting
is a shambles, and such crude stunts as eating a suppository are being
palmed off as comedy.
This was the dilemma faced by this critic (and, I confess, former
NEA site visitor) at "Inspecting Carol," directed by David
Saint, and playing at George Street Playhouse through December 27.
On opening night of the holiday production, suppositories were eaten
(twice), damage was done to men’s private parts, props were used as
weapons, characters paraded on stage in ridiculous states of undress
— and yet the show’s mostly limp jokes were barely audible above
the howls of laughter emanating from the SRO audience. With or without
a critic’s credentials, I was clearly outnumbered.
The seasonal comedy about an aging theater company and a National
Endowment for the Arts inspector was created by artistic director
Dan Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theater in 1990, from the
funny concept of merging "A Christmas Carol" with Gogol’s
"The Inspector General," substituting NEA aspirations for
the bureaucratic foibles of the Russian empire. On opening night at
George Street the modest results earned a mind-boggling standing
"Inspecting Carol" tells the Darwinian survival story of the
Soapbox Players of Cincinnati, headed by artistic director Zorah Bloch
(Kelly Bishop), as it embarks on its ill-fated 13th season of Charles
Dickens’ beloved Christmas classic — and annual cash cow —
"A Christmas Carol." As the first of four days’ rehearsal
gets underway, an unknown actor wanders into the theater, begging
for an audition. Denied the opportunity — he’s not a member of
Actors Equity — Wayne Wellacre (Jim Fyfe) gives stage manager
M.J. (Denny Dillon), and us, his classic "Richard III" scene
anyway. (This artistic tour-de-force comes back to haunt us when Wayne
steps in as a last-minute replacement for Tiny Tim.)
As the company’s new and first-ever business manager,
Kevin (Wally Dunn) interrupts rehearsal to deliver news of the
dire financial straits, including the withholding of its $30,000 NEA
grant, pending an artistic site visit. The paranoid players,
the arrival of an "anonymous" NEA evaluator, mistakenly
that the hapless actor, Wayne, is he — an NEA inspector
Fyfe does have fun with a role that first requires him to be eager
and star-struck. Then, as he learns the reason behind the company’s
regal treatment, he gets a wicked glint in his eye and starts milking
his unwonted power for all it’s worth.
Michael Countryman plays Phil, the company’s perennial Bob Cratchit,
who sports excellent muttonchop whiskers and protests unceasingly
about hefting around Luther (Alex Brumel), the emerging star who’s
still hanging on to his "Tiny Tim" role, even though he now
weighs almost as much as Phil. The jaded Game-Boy devotee, however,
can be usefully bribed to re-boot the company’s ailing computer which
eventually consumes and destroys its 2,000-name subscriber list.
The talents of Jane and Gordon Connell are somewhat wasted in their
roles as veteran Soapbox members Dorothy and Sydney, although Jane
does have fun as an imperious British expatriate and vocal coach.
However, well-known television actor Dan Lauria actually seems more
convincing in his Soapbox role as a 19th-century maniacal Ebenezer
Scrooge than as the frustrated Larry, divorced, down-and-out actor
and inveterate political activist.
Walter E. Parsons musters as much fun and dignity as he can in the
questionable role of Ramon Moses — a black actor who is the
of the Soapbox’s NEA-mandated "multi-cultural initiative."
Ramon is mostly puzzled by the bizarre antics of the company that
would rather debate than rehearse; but the lack of rehearsal time
does indeed come back to haunt the Soapbox players.
In her cameo appearance as the National Endowment for the Arts
Laura Aden, executive director of the New Jersey Theater Group, was…
shall we say… stellar? This is the role that requires the inspector
to get a bowl of punch poured over her — and then deem it her
most moving theatrical experience in recent memory. Perhaps next time
I should sit closer to the punch.
— Nicole Plett
Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. Plays to December 27. $24 to
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