Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Worthy Carol Easily Passes Inspection
Also see Bob's review of As You Like It
For the entire month of December, there is a ramshackle, barely equity theatre performing in New Brunswick. It is called the Soapbox Playhouse. Soapbox is rehearsing and presenting its tired annual bread and butter production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, directed by artistic director Zorah Bloch. Overmatched against Larry Vauxhall, her demonically domineering Scrooge, Ms. Bloch is losing control of the production. Foremost among a myriad of problems that Soapbox is facing is a debilitating 50% subscription renewal rate which has left its coffers empty. Additionally, Soapbox has just received word that the National Endowment for the Arts is withholding in its entirety this year's expected grant of $30,000, without which it cannot survive.
Mary Catherine Wright, Peggy Cosgrave, MacIntyre Dixon, Michael Mastro,
Peter Scolari, Dan Lauria, John Keller, Aaron Wilton and Randy Donaldson
The Soapbox is currently occupying the stage and front rows of the George Street Playhouse where it is bringing joyful and explosive laughter to New Jersey audiences in a new production of the wonderful Christmas farce, Inspecting Carol. This rambunctious and superbly acted and directed farce is rife with verbal and visual humor with wide appeal to both adults as well as any children old enough to attend a full length play. Be aware that there are adult lines and situations. Most will pass by or go over the heads of younger children, However, there is language which is not suitable for them. My solution for such situations was to explain to my children in advance that adults sometimes use bad language which is a part of adult plays. I would add that they were not to use such language themselves, and that, if they did, they would not be allowed to see such plays in the future. Although Inspecting Carol is essentially a wholesome entertainment, those parents who want their children's entertainment to be sanitized should consider themselves forewarned.
Back to the plight of the Soapbox. Aspiring actor Wayne Wellacre is seeking to join the company. An amateur with a delusional belief that he is talented, Wayne claims to be a professional in order to induce Soapbox to hire him. At this time, the company is informed that the NEA is sending an inspector to visit the company in order to make a final determination concerning the suspended grant, Ms. Bloch having concluded that Wayne is certainly not an actor, determines that he must be the NEA inspector. As a result, Wayne is hired and catered to, resulting in a burgeoning of his already inflated ego.
Director David Saint has rounded up a superlative cast of farceurs to capture all the hilarity inherent in this backstage farce which combines Gogol's The Inspector General with Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The loose-limbed Peter Scolari is a joy as the maniacally and myopically enthusiastic Wayne. He has an elfin, goofy charm which recalls a youthful Bobby Morse. Dan Lauria captures the humor of the angry and domineering company Scrooge, Larry Vauxhall, employing a wide-eyed glint to add a fine madness to all his behaviors. A social activist, Larry alters dialogue in the Dickens tale to imbue it with Marxist relevance.
The laughter reaches its zenith late in the evening when we see several scenes from the Soapbox Carol. Here director David Saint, with the assistance of some extraordinary work by set designer R. Michael Miller, pulls out all the stops to produce both sustained and explosive hilarity of classic proportions.
Catherine Cox is zany and adorable as the overwhelmed and frazzled Zorah. Michael Mastro amuses as the dyspeptic Phil Hewlit. The company Crachit, his bad back is a victim of Luther Beatty (Christopher J. Stewart), who has grown into an oversized, no longer Tiny Tim. Peggy Cosgrove as the English Dorothy Tree-Hapgood drolly leads the company through its warm-ups and affects a hilariously inappropriate off-center southern accent as Mrs. Crachit so as to not be the only company member to perform A Christmas Carol with an English accent. MacIntyre Dixon as her American husband Sidney Carlton, provides one of the evenings most hilarious moments performing as the Ghost of Jacob Marley.
Randy Donaldson is deadpan hilarious as Walter E. Parsons, the recent affirmative action addition to the previously racially monochromatic company. Mary Catherine Wright is a delightful presence as the curmudgeonly company stage manager. Wally Dunn as the Soapbox financial manager adds to the frenetic fun.
When the Actual NEA inspector finally arrives, in this production, it is in the form of a "special guest" appearance. It appears that at most performances it will be a politico or community leader. I trust that this serves a useful purpose for George Street. The official most prominently mentioned has been former governor and EPA administrator Christine Whitman, who was scheduled to perform the short role last Saturday night.
Inspecting Carol was written by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre Resident Company. It premiered there in 1992. Initially scripted by the famed director who was then in residence there, it was developed and fleshed out by the company and its characters are based on the personalities of company members. The richness of the play is enhanced by the fact that it deals with serious issues concerning government funding of the arts and the pressures affecting the programming and policies at regional theatres in such an amusing and witty fashion.
David Saint, who came to George Street as artistic director after holding that position at the Seattle Rep, was present at the birth of Inspecting Carol. Saint initially directed it here in 1998. Seven years later, it is a pleasure to have it back in such excellent form.
Inspecting Carol continues performances (Eves: Tues.-Sat. 8 p.m./Sun.: 7 p.m.; Mats.: Sat.& Sun.:2 p.m.- No performance: Evenings: 12/24, 12/25, 12/27; Matinees 12/10, 12/15, 12/25; Added Matinees: 12/23, 12/26, 12/28) through December 31, 2005 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Box Office: 732-246-7717; online www.GSPonline.org/.
Inspecting Carol by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory
Theatre Resident Company; directed by David Saint
Mary Catherine Wright