Originally developed by former Seattle Rep artistic director Daniel Sullivan and the Rep’s resident acting company in 1991, “Inspecting Carol” has become a holiday staple for many community theaters. As part of its 50th-anniversary celebration, the Rep reprises this backstage comedy about the financially and artistically deficient Soapbox Theater as it tiredly goes about the business of rehearsing its annual cash cow, “A Christmas Carol.”
This year, the stakes are higher than ever as the Soapbox’s nervous-Nelly managing director (Burton Curtis) reveals that, in addition to the theater’s subscriber base being halved from the previous year, the annual National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant will hinge upon the results of an imminent visit by an NEA inspector.
When no-talent aspiring actor Wayne Wellacre (Stephen Hando) arrives on his bus tour of community theaters, the company believes he is the NEA inspector working undercover, and he is offered everything from sex to a part in the play.
The big egos, artistic temperament, stage fright, backbiting and backstage romances that define the characters and drive the plot of “Inspecting Carol” make it akin to a “Noises Off” for the holidays. Unfortunately, the script only achieves the manic hilarity of “Noises Off” in the last 20 minutes of the second act; Act I and much of Act II, while peppered with clever gag lines, fail to deliver a constant comedic stream.
‘Superb’ local talent
Director Jerry Manning has assembled a superb cast of local comedic talent, and their onstage efforts provide some priceless moments in spite of script deficits. Reginald Andre Jackson excels as the token black actor, Walter, cast as all of the ghosts to infuse a multicultural element into the production; Jackson manages to maintain his dignity while sporting some blush-worthy costumes.
Hando’s handling of Wayne Wellacre’s truly awful audition scene provides some of the best comedic moments of Act I.
Other standouts include Ian Bell as the egotistical actor who plays Scrooge and wants to rewrite the play to deliver his own political views; Peggy Gannon as the technical director desperately trying to keep the show moving forward; and Kimberly King and Michael Winters as the stalwart actor-couple. Nathaniel Kelderman and Hank Fialkow alternate as Luther Beatty, the show’s oversized Tiny Tim.
Carey Wong designed the impressive breakaway set, and Catherine Hunt is responsible for outrageous costuming for the play within a play.
“Inspecting Carol” plays at the Seattle Repertory Theatre through Dec. 23. For more information, visit www.seattlerep.org.