Putting a satiric twist on the holiday season, Faulkner University is presenting Inspecting Carol by Daniel Sullivan and The Seattle Repertory Theatre. Using Nicolai Gogol's 1836 one-act The Inspector General for inspiration, Sullivan's play takes us to the "Soapbox Playhouse" and a rehearsal of their annual production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a heretofore guaranteed success, and one which allowed them to pay the bills [and doesn't every theatre need a moneymaker these days?].
There are several twists to be expected: rehearsals are delayed due to any number of actors' idiosyncrasies or demands, the director Zorah [Brooke Brown] is a self-proclaimed emotionally-charged Lithuanian, 12-year-old Luther [Danile Harms] playing Tiny Tim has outgrown the part, Phil playing Cratchit [Brandtley McDonald] is a walking hypochondriac, in an attempt to be multi-cultural the company hired an untried Black actor named Walter [Erik Gunn], Larry [Allen Young] who plays Scrooge is so bored from having played the role so many times that he did it once entirely in Spanish, an impetuously eager young man named Wayne [David Brown] arrives to audition and won't be denied a chance -- and, oh yes, they owe $30,000 and they're broke!
When their new accountant Kevin [Taylor McGregor] breaks the disturbing news that the National Endowment for the Arts has suspended their funding till an investigation is conducted, the company conclude that Wayne must be the NEA inspector, and do anything to please him. Just as in Gogol's witty play, Wayne's assumed identity leads to all sorts of havoc.
Director Jason Clark South and Scenic Designer Matt Dickson have things well in hand. On a flexible stage [lots of moveable parts for scene changes] that never appears crowded: the action moves along at a brisk pace, only occasionally are actors voices too soft, and the plot devices [too many to enumerate here, but suffice it to say that audiences familiar with A Christmas Carol and with theatre-lore will get an added kick out of it] provide numerous surprises from the talented cast. The razor-edged comedy may not always be as sharp as demanded by the script, but the actors are refreshingly engaging and uninhibited.
The ensemble feel to this production keeps things on an even keel with each participant's over-the-top antics threatening to overpower the others but always kept in check by the clever script and the combined talents of the acting company whose trust in one another keeps audience comfort intact. The characters' predictable in-fighting and backbiting, and a never ending surprising turn of events, ultimately result in a crazy revisionist rehearsal of Dickens' classic tale that has Scrooge ad libing his way through the morass of problems besetting the doomed production.
When the real NEA inspector Betty [Hannah Darrough] attends this rehearsal and -- surprise! surprise! -- actually likes it, the company is saved, and the audience goes home with a new and slightly skewed appreciation of A Christmas Carol.