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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 7, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 49
An 'old-fashioned' holiday
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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An 'old-fashioned' holiday

SRT mainstay Inspecting Carol is still funny but showing its age

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

INSPECTING CAROL
SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE
Through December 23


The current production of Seattle Rep's Inspecting Carol still has a lot of laughs, which is great. It's a remount of an original piece first created in 1991, when the Rep was more of a true repertory company. Daniel Sullivan and those resident cast members created a mashup of a farce by Nikolai Gogol, The Inspector General, with a down-at-the-mouth theater company doing their annual Christmas Carol to boost their budget into the black.

The play has a lot of inside theater jokes, which can be fun, but as hard as this talented cast works, and however much director Jerry Manning wants it to succeed, it's probably time to think about retiring this work. It would help if the audience were better informed as to when it takes place, since the play has Stephen Hando hauling around a huge anachronistic 'laptop' and other older technology is employed. The fact that the play is set in 1991 isn't even noted in the program.

The economics of theater are still the same or even more uncertain today - and this 1991 theater is failing to make budget, as managing director Kevin (Burton Curtis) informs artistic director Zorah (Gretchen Krich). It's losing subscribers and even its annual $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is in jeopardy. Zorah, meanwhile, is in the midst of a four-day rehearsal process. (Really? Who rehearses just four days on a show that is essential to keeping the theater going the rest of the year?)

Hando's character, Wayne, is a forlorn would-be actor who thinks he scheduled an audition just by sending in a postcard. When Zorah and Kevin get a letter that says an NEA observer is coming to evaluate the fate of their grant, they decide that Wayne is that observer, only incognito. It helps explain why he is such a bad actor, they decide. To encourage/bribe him into giving them a good report, they cast him - in the tiniest role they can. But they also allow him to weigh in on their artistic vision, thinking they have to go along with whatever he suggests.

Krich's character makes a big to-do over how she has worked to diversify the theater by bringing in an African American (Walter, played by Reginald André Jackson). In 1991, that might have registered as funny, but in 2012, it just seems sad. Veteran cast members include Ian Bell as Larry, a kibitzing Scrooge who wants to rewrite the play into some kind of humanitarian crusade; Chris Ensweiler as Phil, who has the hots for the director and fakes a back injury for sympathy; Peggy Gannon as MJ, the competent stage manager turned less-competent actor by vacancy; and Kimberly King and Michael Winters playing a loving acting couple who genially do whatever is called for.

NOT-SO-TINY TIM
Hank Fialkow and Nathaniel Kelderman alternate as the Tiny Tim-like character who has grown too big to carry and is now a cheeky tween. And Kathy Hsieh has a very brief moment as the real NEA observer, who shows up just in time to see the trainwreck of the dress rehearsal.

To repeat, the cast is full of talent and watching them is fun. Each does what their role calls for, though some of what is called for becomes odder as the play goes on. MJ, unaccountably, is unable to stop laughing through the entire dress; Walter has learned zero lines in the previous days of rehearsal and stands mute, unable even to improvise. One has to suppose that this is what passes for farce.

If you're looking for Christmas Lite, this is for you. You don't have to sit through A Christmas Carol itself, you can laugh, and it still might make you feel good afterward. For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call (206) 443-2222.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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