By Margie Royal
“Inspecting Carol” by Daniel Sullivan premiered at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1996 and has become a popular December alternative to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The show takes its inspiration from a satirical play by the Russian and Ukrainian dramatist and novelist Nikolai Gogol, entitled “The Government Inspector,” originally published in 1836. Sullivan’s play retains a satirical flavor and updates the plot to the present day where a professional theatre troupe, The Soapbox Players, is rehearsing its annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” There is plenty of drama on stage and behind the scenes. The Founding Director of the troupe, Zorah (Cathy Mostek) must deal with her ex-husband, Larry (T.J. Deluca) who is bored with playing Scrooge and wants to change the script. She also has to deal with a whole other host of problems and the personalities of troupe members played by Lauri Jaccobs, Tom Kammerdiener, Sedric Willis, Brendan Mostek, Sebastian Mostek and Joe Tranchitella. As if that weren’t enough stress, she then learns from the troupe’s business director, Karen (Nancy Reeves) that the company is broke, but is expecting a representative from the National Endowment of the Arts to arrive which might save them and keep their theatre afloat. If the representative rates the theatre well, it’s a good bet they’ll get a grant check and be able to continue performing.
You can probably guess what goes awry. As stage manager MJ McMann (Kathy Michael) tries to run a rehearsal, in comes Wayne Wellacre (Steve Travers), a wanna be actor looking to make his stage debut. Of course, he’s mistaken as the NEA evaluator, and “Inspector Carol” is off and running. But farce is tricky to stage. Once the plot set up is clear, the story is best performed at a breakneck pace so the audience has no time to ponder the silly and, at times, predictable plot they are watching unfold. Although director Josh Gosselin has cast the show very well, on opening night the pacing was a bit slow and the production lacked a frentic pace. Act I was particulary leisurely: you can see how the playwright pulls the string of the plot as you wait for what you can guess is coming. Act 2 is performed more briskly and delivers plenty of laughs.
There is a lot to enjoy in watching this talented ensemble perform. Lauri Jacobs is very funny as the Englishwoman told to speak with an American accent. Joe Tranchitella and T.J. Deluca as self-centered actors, and Sedric Willis as the phobic actor, all turn in strong performances. Tom Kammerdiener creates a sweet-natured Phil Hewlit. Brendan Mostek and Kathy Michael and Nancy Reeves offer solid comic portrayals. Sebastian Mostek does a good job as the bratty Luther, who has long ago outgrown the role of Tiny Tim. Cathy Mostek is funny and believeable as the actress desperate to do just about anything to save her theatre. Susan Triggani is a good sport and appropriately queenly in the cameo role of Betty Andrews. Arpy Jones plays Betty Dec. on 9.
Andrew Montemayor’s lighting and sound design is terric and Josh Gosselin’s set design nicely serves the action.
If You Go: Remaining Spotlight Theatre performances are of ‘Inspecting Carol’ are December 8, 9, 15, 16 at 8 PM, and a matinee on December 10 at 2 PM, at the Swarthmore United Methodist Church, 129 Park Ave, Swarthmore, PA 19081. Tickets are $15 general admission, and $12 for the matinee. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the website www.spotlighttheatrepa.org.