THEATER | “Inspecting Carol” at the Civic Theatre: Good for an easy laugh

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The Bloomington Civic Theatre’s holiday show this year is Inspecting Carol. Written by Daniel J. Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Karen Weber both directs and plays one of the lead roles. While the show is slow to get started, it builds itself up to some very funny moments in the second half. 

The story revolves around a local equity theater company getting ready for their annual showing of A Christmas Carol while facing economic ruin. The company’s director, Zorah Block (Karen Weber) learns that the annual NEA grant that the theater depends on to get through their season has been withheld and that an inspector will be coming to determine if the artistic value of their productions are worthy of further funding. In addition to funding issues, Block is dealing with the death of her husband as well as handling the difficult but brilliant actor Larry Vauxhall (Nathan Surprenant) who has a history of suddenly doing all of his lines in Spanish and promoting his views about sharing the wealth with the third world during his performances. Block also has to duck the affections of actor Phil Hewlitt (Dale Pfelsticker) who she made the mistake of having a one-night stand with after the death of her husband. 

As rehearsals begin, Wayne Wellacre (Matthew Berdahl) intrudes, seeking an audition. Wellacre is an untalented novice actor, but the theater group mistakes him as an uncover NEA inspector and, in an effort to get on his good side, makes him a member. Much of the comedy revolves around Vauxhall and Wellacre rewriting scenes of the holiday classic to make it more artistically and politically relevant. The funniest scene is the troupe’s dress rehearsal of the play before the real NEA inspector.

The entire cast plays well as an ensemble group. Notable among their performances are Weber as the harried director, Surprenant as the temperamental Vauxhall and Michael Terrell Brown as Walter Parsons—the new and first “multi-cultural” actor in the all-white acting troupe—who is constantly frustrated by the rewriting of newly learned scenes. Lisa Bol does a nice turn as the troupe’s stage manager who, as an extra in the dress rehearsal, can’t stop her infectious laughter.    

The only disappointment with the play is that it could have been much funnier. Certain actions during the play just did not make much sense in the context of the overall play, including the sudden departure of one troupe member and Block’s awkward pass at Wellacre. Many of the fiascos at the dress rehearsal are unrelated to what had occurred earlier with most of the humor coming from falling down sets, etc. Had the play been constructed to tie more of the dress rehearsal disasters to earlier happenings, the dress rehearsal scene would have been much more hilarious. Finally, after the climax scene, the play goes on a little too long. Despite the play’s flaws, it is at times very entertaining and makes for good holiday viewing.