To see the Black Bart Playhouse in Murphys almost full for an opening night performance was a treat in and of itself, but once the Murphys Creek Theatre production of “Inspecting Carol” got underway, it was simple to discern why newcomers flocked to the theater. Christmas elves must have sent word that the play by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre Company is a crowd-pleasing romp through a terrible show.
Let me clear that last statement up for you; “Inspecting Carol” follows a travesty of a production of “A Christmas Carol,” staged by the Soapbox Playhouse, which, we learn as the show commences, faces imminent closure. It seems the founder of the troupe, the vivaciously angry (“She’s Lithuanian!”) Zorah, has cost the company about half of its subscribers with quirky programming, and computers keep eating the other 2,000-plus patrons when they crash.
The company’s new business manager, Kevin, delivers the dire forecast to Zorah and they hope that this “Carol” will boost the bottom line. They have also learned, however, that the National Endowment for the Arts is sending an inspector to peruse the books, view the company’s work and examine its inclusiveness and community acumen to provide a life-saving grant. Exactly who the inspector is proves a stumbling block for the company members throughout the show.
As Zorah, Maryann Curmi is again a comedic force of nature, something Mother Lode audiences have come to expect. But here, instead of rollicking onstage as a bluster of sultry grins and over-the-top gesticulations, she deploys more subtlety to achieve her character’s desires. I love the way Curmi telegraphs Zorah’s thoughts for the audience; it’s as if we can read Zorah’s mind as she mulls moves within the troupe to secure its future, no matter the cost when viewed in the short term. Later, when Zorah believes she and Kevin have solved the inspector mystery, Curmi fires up Zorah’s womanly charms to try and persuade the would-be money man to support the ever-so-just cause. This is where Curmi unleashes her comedic beast, and the audience loves it.
Kevin Moon has a sheet that proves everything as Kevin, who whips out pages whenever a question is raised. Moon is perfectly nervous, fidgeting about the stage, continually jabbing and prodding Zorah when they devise new schemes.
One thing about “Inspecting Carol” that’s rather unique in theater, I think – especially when we consider (or despite the fact) that a troupe of actors helped write the script – is that at least two characters are given mostly free rein to ham it up in ridiculous ways. Whereas in, shall we say, more serious comedies, mugging or “pulling focus” is frowned upon, here, Michael Crich and Sean M. Lewis are allowed to milk moments for the maximum payoff; they succeed mightily.
Crich is Larry, the curmudgeonly divorced man who has a grumble for everything, especially the plights of the less fortunate. Larry’s the actor who insisted last year’s production of the Christmas classic should be in Spanish; enough said? Watch for Crich when Larry must move about as if fog has enveloped the set, and keep listening, because Larry’s got a million of them!
Lewis performs what has to be one of the worst Shakespearean monologues for his audition as Wayne, an unfortunately untalented “AK-tor” who craves the limelight more than children dream of sugarplums. Lewis is a treat here, giving Wayne every nerdy affectation he can, complete with a voice that sounds like he’s got a mouthful of marbles.
Sarah Grimes-Emmons returns to the Mother Lode stage as M.J., the put-upon stage manager of the Soapbox Playhouse. Those of us who have seem Grimes-Emmons bottle up her energy for the ultimate blowup will very much appreciate her turn here. Be sure to glance her way as Wayne delivers that disastrous audition, because her face is an exercise in showing a barely contained hurricane of laughs.
Sally McClellan and Jake Edmondson create many laughs as Dorothy and Sydney, the husband-and-wife duo purportedly known for rapturous performances in the past. Watch for McClellan’s hilarious warmup exercises and Edmondson’s ridiculous wrestling match against Jacob Marley’s chains of woe.
Sean-Pierra Fox-Wilson is almost too downtrodden as Walter, the actor of color Zorah has ushered into the roles of the Christmas spirits to hopefully impress the NEA inspector. Fox-Wilson has fun later when rehearsals start to go off the tracks, especially as he struggles with insane costumes.
As you can tell, I can’t exactly dive into this play because there’s a lot going on at the playhouse. Don Bilotti directs the insanity, and the first act – usually a demanding din of exposition and introduction – clips along nicely. The second act, I felt, dragged more than it should, but it’s timing with some delirious gags that cools down the action, not inattention to characters’ words. That said, the rehearsals grow to become nothing short of hilarious, especially if you’ve ever been near a stage. The actors may chew scenery, but they’re having too much fun and you’ll laugh right along with them.
The ugliness in the world needs pushback, and this show pushes hard to make quirks and foibles part of the fun. It doesn’t put down or belittle (leave that to Larry!), it takes a wacky situation and blows it hilariously out of proportion. See “Inspecting Carol” before the grant money runs out on Dec. 23.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 23
WHERE: Black Bart Playhouse, 580 S. Algiers St., Murphys
TICKETS: $12 to $22 at murphyscreektheatre.org or 728-8422
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