It takes nerve to laugh at oneself. That’s probably the reason there are so many Jewish comedians.
So, when you have a theatre company that’s from Hoboken, with a collapsed spirit and scant funding, what do you do?
Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Co. told the story when they wrote and performed “Inspecting Carol” in 1991. Not that the Rep was collapsed or scantly funded, but what if they were?
The Soap Box Theatre, our mythological stage, was certainly in that fix and they had to find a way to change the red ink to black in order to keep open. Zorah Bloch, director/founder of the company isn’t really worried. It’s Christmas time and they can roll out their yearly cash cow, Dickens’ sure fire hit, “A Christmas Carol.”
Aye, there’s the rub. The cast has been doing this classic for too many years and is really fed up with it. Tiny Tim is approaching 14 and is taller and more beefy than both his father and Ebenezer. Larry Vauxhall, Scrooge, has just been fleeced by his ex-wife and is anti the holiday season. In fact, Vauxhall acts like a child of the ’60s who adhered to Timothy Leary’s philosophy of “turn on, tune in, drop out.” The only problem is that he never dropped back in!
Karen Emery, the company bookkeeper who tries to keep the troupe on a business level, gets word that the company’s yearly grant from the National Endowment to the Arts is about to be dropped, pending an NEA inspector. What to do?
At the height of that precarious problem enters Wayne Wellacre, who always wanted to be an actor but possesses no knowledge of theatre and even less talent. Wellacre shows up at an audition, not realizing that our little troupe on the verge is an Equity group, and can only hire union members so the would-be ham is tossed out on his ear by M.J., the Stage Manager.
Zorah and Karen learn about Wayne’s appearance and automatically decide that he is the (sorry Danny Kaye) Inspector General! They not only invite him into the company but put up with the worst reading of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” speech “Now is the winter of discontent made…” Wayne looks and acts more like Quasimodo than King Dick.
As the rest of the cast arrives to rehearse, more problems come forth with more unlikely solutions. Sidney Carlton and Dorothy Tree-Hapgood, a husband and wife team who are stage-worn and a bit over their prime are tired of the whole Cratchit thing. Our not so Tiny Tim is up for a TV show.
The biggest problem seems to be Zorah’s decision to succumb to the theory that they will do better in the eyes of the NEA if they add an African American to their ranks. Thus, in comes Walter E. Parsons – a good actor who is told to play all three Christmas Ghosts, Past, Present and Future. The only problem is they forget to give him a script or any blocking or any direction at all. Poor Parsons is living in a production of Christopher Durang’s “Actor’s Nightmare.”
Director Jennifer York takes hold of the rag-tag group and gets things just right so that the laughs start with about the second line and doesn’t stop even after the audience is out in the parking lot.
Blake R. York does his magic with a somewhat drab set which matches the show perfectly; especially the too short door that Bob Cratchit is supposed to carry Teen-Tim through on his shoulder.
Costume Designer Stu Johnson uses an eclectic choice of mismatched clothing which fits the cast perfectly.
Lighting is done by Jacob Viramontes; John Munn does the sound design, Alyana Stephens does props and Jeffery Swine-Weaver is wig master.
Stage Manager Nicolas Roycroft holds things together with the assistance of Tyler Petty.
Director York has used new, old and returning actors for her team. All are a good fit for the funny, funny play and know how to bring out the laughs.
“Carol’s” Assistant Stage Manager, Tyler Petty ably plays Bart Frances, the Assistance Stage Manager of our little saga – type-casting. The actor/crew member also does all the non-assigned male roles in the play.
Brittany Griffins is M.J. McMann, the Stage Manager. Griffins shows her strength in her passion when she expels the non-equity would-be actor. She continues to her duties of her office with knowledge and explodes under duress admirably. McMann also plays Martha Cratchit.
Jed Slaughter is a hoot as Wayne Wellacre, our NEA usurper. Slaughter milks every scene with the most illogical suggestions to make the show different and a bigger money-maker. The actor does so well with his suggestions he actually has the rest of the cast believing he is the inspector and that using his suggestions will assure more money from NEA.
Steffanie Foster rejoins the theatre scene after an eight-year hiatus with a terrific portrayal of Zorah Bloch, the frantic director/founder of The Soap Box Theatre. Foster plays her part as a woman who will stop at nothing to keep her sinking suds afloat – she even tries to seduce unsuspecting Wayne. This is a funny lady.
Gunner Ray is our oversized Tiny Tim. Ray plays the young chap with the eagerness of someone comfortable with a role he doesn’t want to lose but realizes his puberty is far behind and he has to move on. Ray shows that he really understands this role. Part of his wardrobe is the sneakers with Wheelies. This causes a couple of “oohs” from the audience when the talented young man stops them short from rolling right at the edge of the stage.
Dana Galagan is Dorothy Tree-Hapgood, the distaff half of the husband and wife team; she also plays Emily Cratchit. When learning that Wayne is from NEA, Galagan comes alive and tries to convince Wayne they deserve a duo show to display their true talents. Galagan is so funny when she seems to recover from her “help me, darling” fatigue to remind the cast they must do their warm-up exercises.
Curtis Beech, is Sidney Carlton, the male counterpart of the married team; he also plays Jacob Marley’s ghost and Mr. Fezzwig. Beech is a favorite of many directors because he is able to bring some inventive characteristic to his different roles, which sets them above the mundane. As Carlton, Beech is omni-helpful to his wife. As Marley’s ghost, he gets lost in his chains and nosily drags them across the stage and as Fezzwig, he is forgetful and neglects to remove the chains but continues to get them caught in the scenery but completely maintains a lack of knowledge of the errors he makes; good job.
Tim Hoban is Phil Hewlit, who is Soap Box’s Bob Cratchit. Hewilt makes the jovial father of the Cratchit brood somewhat less than jovial but only because the actor playing that father is having a hard time with his personal life – that is to say, Hoban is making Hewlit’s angst about Zorah not returning his passionate love he develops for his director after a one-night-stand relationship. To say this problem Hewlit has colors his whole being – not Hoban – he does a terrific job of showing the problem as the actor – in the play – not the actor in “Carol” but – oh, you know what I mean!
Mark Peterson plays the company’s first black actor, Walter E. Parsons. Peterson is a fine actor who does great justice to any role he assumes. It is a pleasure to watch the actor crumble into a mass of fear when he realizes he is never going to get his lines or blocking and that he’s really only there to make the quota. Never has fear seemed so funny.
Shelleigh–Mairi Ferguson is Karen Emery, the financial director who tries to keep her cool when all about her are losing theirs. It is Karen who first announces the coming of the inspector; also it is she who convinces Zorah that Wayne must be the NEA spy. This comical lady knows how to show who she fears most – Zorah, of course.
Dennis Rolly makes a welcome return to Lakewood to play Larry Vauxhall, Soap Box’s Ebenezer Scrooge. Rolly gives Vauxhall the negative emotions the character needs to turn the pleasant little ghost story into the tirade against social injustice that the actor feels has been heaped upon him. Rolly is a competent actor who excels in the many diverse roles he assumes. It’s good to have him home again.
Rhoni Lozier plays the real NEA spy, Betty Andrews. Lozier watches Act II of the Soap Box mixed up production of the classic tale. During an added raucous scene at the end of the play, Betty gets doused with punch and must make a quick exit to change her soaked clothing into the only gown the company’s costume shop has that will fit her. Fittingly, Betty appears on stage dressed as a queen announcing that she loves the show and plans to increase the company’s grant!
Thus proves God loves drunks, crazy people and actors!
“Inspecting Carol” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, just behind the Pierce Transit Bus Depot through May 12, each Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For more information or reservations, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
“Inspecting Carol is touted to be a chaotic comedy combining the best elements of both “Noises Off” and “A Christmas Carol.” Doing this funny show in May makes it even funnier. Forget the hectic Christmas days and enjoy a hilarious spring fling.