In honor of Seattle Repertory Theatre’s 50th anniversary, their classic comedy, “Inspecting Carol” is being presented through December 23. “Carol” was written by the former artistic director Daniel Sullivan and members of the repertory cast of actors. First presented as a skit for the Rep’s volunteers in 1991, it became full length production that played on the SRT stage for the first time that same year. In 1993, the show went on a national tour. In 2001, SRT presented it again. And that brings us to this current production.
It has a wonderful set by Carey Wong. He has produced some dynamic sets, including the Tacoma Opera’s “Madame Butterfly” with a long walkway that wraps around the back of the stage where the characters come in. His design for “Carol” includes all the audience seating, the non-profit theater’s stage and a hilarious and very unexpected ending.
I really enjoyed all the actors. Zorah Bloch (Gretchen Krich), the founder of the theater who’s trying to hold on under the threat of not receiving an annual grant from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), is directing the annual holiday play, “The Christmas Carol”. She’s been told that a NEA inspector is coming to judge the creativity and artistic merit of the theater and their grant depends on the artistic acceptability of their production. No pressure there!
The actors have only four days to rehearsal to perfect the production. Against her better instincts, Zora hired actor, Larry Vauxhall (Ian Bell); he has caused many problems in past productions. Larry has delayed rehearsals with his endless, critical observations and his touchy-feely improvisations that he insists are necessary to whatever character he’s playing. The other actors who’ve performed with him are aghast at her choice. But the short, four-day rehearsal period necessitated hiring an actor familiar with the character – hence Larry Vauxhall.
As soon as they begin rehearsal, Larry has multiple changes he wants and insists on giving long dissertations about his artistic instinct, delaying the development of the other characters. Marley’s Ghost is Sidney Carlton (Michael Winters) in a long robe draped with chains. The Ghost of Christmas Present and Future are played by Walter Parsons (Reginald Andre Jackson), who isn’t familiar with the roles, but he is Zorah’s multicultural actor to meet the delicacies of NEA expectations.
The other characters are also disruptive. The cast member who’s Mrs. Cratchit (Kimberly King) is the one responsible to make sure the cast members warm up to prevent injury. One of the funniest slapstick moments is after everyone has shaken themselves silly, she gives them a visualization exercise of picking a lemon from an invisible tree and inserting it somewhere uncomfortable.
While all this is going on, a man comes in and sits down, takes out his 1991 laptop, and proceeds to assiduously type away. When Zorah asks him what he’s doing there, he states that he’s Wayne Wellacre (Stephen Hondo), an actor who sent her a postcard to announce he’s coming into town today and has to leave tomorrow and he wants Zorah to audition him, no matter how inconvinient. Confusion ensues.
Zora believes that Wayne may be the NEA inspector, and rather than throw him out, gives him a part in the production. He’s appallingly bad as an actor and also has many suggestions to make, all of which are incorporated because he may be the NEA inspector.
It just goes on and on, with one more appalling detail after another added to the script because of Wayne and Larry’s “artistic” suggestions. When the inspector, Betty Andrews (Kathy Hsieh) finally arrives on the last day of rehearsal, the play is such a mess that everybody and everything is malfunctioning. When the set collapses at the end, Betty compliments them for their creative deconstruction of the hoary classic and announces that they will get even more money than grants in the past.
“Inspecting Carol” is directed by Jerry Manning, SRT’s Associate Artistic Director, who’s in charge of casting all the productions. He chose excellent actors, from the theatre founder and director played by Gretchen Krich to Peggy Gannon who is the beleaguered stage manager who’s overwhelmed when it all goes excruciatingly awry. Even Nathaniel Kelderman who plays Luther Beatty as Tiny Tim, has grown so much that it’s a problem for the other actors to carry him. Luther is overwhelmingly arrogant; his agent is in negotiation for a TV series for him and, if it comes to fruition, he’ll leave Tiny Tim in his dust to get to California. Character Phil Hewlit (Burton Curtis) plays the overwrought theater bookkeeper, who’s afraid that if they don’t get the grant, he won’t have enough money to pay the actors, staff and rent.
Catherine Hunt’s costume designs really show the character of each role, especially the Ghosts.
Reginald Andre Jackson as the Ghost of the Present and Future is decorated in fussy, green velveteen fur- laden cloak dripping with holly. Gretchen Krich is dressed in an “arty” all black outfit that is varied with colorful, long scarves to throw around. The harried bookkeeper Burton Curtis is dressed in polyester-esque clothing, cheap to buy and easy to take care of. Nathaniel Kelderman is a ‘90s cliché in designer jeans, expensive sneakers and a puffy vest. (Our kids had those, too!)
The material is slightly dated because of a requirement that a multicultural actor be included in the cast. Nowadays, multicultural actors are normal. They are hired for all kinds of roles, not just for an inclusion to meet NEA expectations.
The ridiculous actors and their artistic integrity are all bits of hyperbole, but probably very familiar in current small, non-profit productions.
“Inspecting Carol” runs at Seattle Repertory Theatre until December 23. It was fun to again see the traditional SRT production.
For information and tickets, contact the box office at (206) 443-2222 or toll-free at (877) 900-9285 or, go online. The box office hours are Tuesday through Sunday, from noon to show time but the website is open 24/7 so you can easily get your tickets.