An Inspector Calls
Also see Bill's review of Aurélia's Oratorio
J. B. Priestley's play, An Inspector Calls, reflects both of those points of view simultaneously. Set in 1910, before any of the world war mess started, it provides a retrospective look at how a society gone wrong can ruin not only itself but the individuals who live in it as well. It may take a village to raise a child, but it can also take a village to destroy one, and Priestley's point about the folly of living in a less-than-interconnected society comes through loud and clear in a play that likes to hold its cards close to the vest and reveal them one at a time (or maybe not at all and just let the audience keep guessing).
Lamb's Players Theatre has a history of doing fine productions from this period. They mounted An Inspector Calls once before, and perhaps the finest production I've seen there was Detective Story, an American cousin of Mr. Priestley's play. If this production doesn't quite live up to my memory of Detective Story, it comes mighty close.
The scene is the Birling house (more about the set later), where the family has gathered for a quiet celebration of daughter Sheila's engagement to Gerald Croft. Arthur and Sybil Birling are obviously quite happy to be marrying off their somewhat less-than-desirable daughter, and Arthur confides to Gerald that he hopes to be in line soon for some form of honorary peerage. Meanwhile, son Eric is getting pretty soused and threatening to disrupt the proceedings.
The family is surprised by the sudden arrival of a man calling himself Inspector Goole, who announces that he is investigating the suicide death of a young woman. The woman, it turns out, has had some association with each of the family members, as well as Mr. Croft, and each of these associations has contributed to her demise.
Co-directors Robert Smyth and Deborah Gilmour Smyth have been as particular with their production as Mr. Priestley was with constructing his play. A few of the production "cards" are tipped immediately (for example, the floor of Mike Buckley's set, which from a distance looks like wall-to-wall carpet, is really made of dirt); others, such as gradual lighting changes that reveal cracks in what look to be solid walls, happen in a subtle but highly effective manner (Nathan Peirson created the lighting design). The fact the Ms. Smyth co-designed the carefully-used sound (with resident designer Patrick Duffy) is an indication of the detail that went into the production.
Part of what makes the Lamb's company shine in productions such as this one is that it has a large resident ensemble from which to draw the cast. Casting from within allows for previous production experience to yield a tight ensemble effect, and that effect has indeed come about (Mr. Smyth plays Goole, David Cochran Heath plays Arthur Birling, Glynn Bedington plays his wife, Sybil, Jon Lorenz plays son Eric, real-life couple Colleen Kollar Smith and Lance Arthur Smith play the daughter and her beloved; Jillian Frost plays Edna the housekeeper, and she coached the none-too-thick British dialects). I could pick and say that Mr. and Mrs. Birling are a tad too outraged and Eric is a tad too drunk for my sense of the work, but I doubt that these concerns would be shared by audiences.
The play ends rather abruptly (with Mr. Priestley throwing in his ace of spades in the final lines), and audience members may walk out muttering "Huh?" Fortunately, the company has decided to hold forums with the cast after each performance, and the discussion at the one I attended was a quite lively one (don't worry about staying out too latethe original three-act structure has been consolidated into 90 minutes with no intermission).
An Inspector Calls runs through March 21 at Lamb's Coronado facility. Tickets ($26 - $58) are available by calling (619) 437-0600 or online at the company's website.
Lamb's Players Theatre presents An Inspector Calls, by J. B. Priestley and directed by Robert Smyth and Deborah Gilmour Smyth. Scenic design by Mike Buckley, lighting design by Nathan Peirson, costume design by Jeanne Reith, sound design by Deborah Gilmour Smyth and Patrick Duffy, properties design by Michael McKeon, and production stage manager Maria Mangiavellano.
With Jon Lorenz, Jillian Frost, Colleen Kollar Smith, Glynn Bedington, David Cochran Heath, Lance Arthur Smith, and Robert Smyth.