‘Inspecting Carol’ Brings Holiday Hilarity to Stage
By Doug Carroll
Photos by Samantha Erdmann
It makes no difference where you stand on “A Christmas Carol,” whether you think the Dickens holiday classic is delightful or should be detonated. There’s plenty for either side to love in “Inspecting Carol,” the hilarious play-within-a-play that opened over the weekend at Ethington Theatre.
New and familiar student faces illuminate the stage of the GCU production, which is full of laugh-out-loud moments and came together in only four weeks — a tribute to the fine ensemble assembled by College of Fine Arts and Production Dean Claude Pensis, who directed the show.
The first semester of 2010-11 has been nothing less than spectacular for the college’s thespians with “The Pirates of Penzance,” “All in the Timing” and now “Inspecting Carol,” written by American playwright Daniel Sullivan.
Sullivan blended Nicolai Gogal’s “The Government Inspector” with the done-to-death “A Christmas Carol,” creating a play that pokes loving fun at community theatre. If you managed to see Christopher Guest’s mid-’90s film “Waiting for Guffman,” about a forlorn Midwestern theatre troupe, you will find similarities here.
Oversize egos, petty jealousies and sheer ineptitude are the hallmarks of the little Soapbox Playhouse, which is preparing to put on its annual “Christmas Carol” production. The company is flat broke, and its manager, Zorah (Tabitha Valentine), is heartbroken.
The company’s bookkeeper (Nathan de Laet) advises Zorah that the National Endowment for the Arts will send an inspector, who will determine whether the company qualifies for $30,000 in funding to be restored. When a no-talent actor passing through town, Wayne (Adam Benavides), is mistaken by the troupe as the inspector — they think he’s working undercover — the laughs are on.
The members of the sorry Soapbox company are a piece of work. They’re so busy pouting and posturing that they never get down to performing.
“Let’s all take a short break — to rehearse the play!” exhorts the stage manager, M.J., played with perfect weariness by Emily Kapla. “We’re just a couple of steps away from an actual line of dialogue!”
Complicating matters are the screwball antics of Larry (Jake Swanson), a tie-dyed prima donna who is famous for using his role as Scrooge to advance social causes. Not to mention the befuddled Walter (Robert Hollingsworth), unable to learn a single line as the various ghosts haunting Scrooge, and the cranky Phil (Brad Beamon), who has eyes for Zorah and wants sympathy for playing the character of Bob Cratchit while sort-of injured.
Dorothy (Bina Neuwirth) and Sidney (Shane Geant) consider themselves the only serious actors in the bunch. Not to be missed: Dorothy’s weird warm-up exercises for this motley crew. Neuwirth turns the scene into a riotous show stopper.
Working behind Zorah’s back, Larry and Wayne spruce up the script in Larry’s wingnut way, but then Tiny Tim (Maria Anderson, Jennifer Bain) ditches the show for a better gig. After the real inspector (Elizabeth Pabst) finally arrives, everything comes together in truly bizarre fashion.
As Zorah and Larry, Valentine and Swanson represent the Soapbox at its most earnest and eccentric. They’re both outstanding in the show, and so is Benavides in the role of Wayne. He has the goofy mannerisms and rubbery facial expressions suited to comedy. Even the comparatively small role of Walter is given the right deer-in-the-headlights turn by Hollingsworth, whose character, as an African-American, represents Zorah’s “multicultural initiative.”
As usual, Assistant Dean Bill Symington’s set works perfectly. His magic touch and Pensis’ expert lighting have made the entire Ethington Theatre Series look splendid. They’re pros, and it shows.
“Inspecting Carol” resumes on Friday, Dec. 3, with its final weekend of performances. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call 639.8880.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].