Inspecting Carol

An irreverent homage to Charles Dickens' tale of a redemptive old miser, "Inspecting Carol" might just be the perfect antidote for the grinch community seeking to destroy the joys of the holiday season. Wickedly knockabout satire of "A Christmas Carol" has returned to the George Street Playhouse after an eight-year absence, staged by a.d. David Saint with a firm handle on the blatant buffoonery.

An irreverent homage to Charles Dickens’ tale of a redemptive old miser, “Inspecting Carol” might just be the perfect antidote for the grinch community seeking to destroy the joys of the holiday season. Wickedly knockabout satire of “A Christmas Carol,” a collaborative effort written by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theater, has returned to the George Street Playhouse after an eight-year absence, staged by a.d. David Saint with a firm handle on the blatant buffoonery.

The manic farce may owe much of its inspired lunacy to Gogol’s “The Inspector General,” and a few giggles appear to be left over from Michael Frayn’s giddy theatrical romp “Noises Off.” After 12 years of presenting the timeless seasonal tale, a pathetic small-town community-theater group of luckless thesps is faced with mounting financial disaster. Suspecting a lamentably inept visiting actor of being a disguised representative of the funding arts foundation, the troupe gallantly attempts to justify its tacky presentation.

As impossibly nerdy intruder Wayne Wellacre, Peter Scolari auditions with a hilarious take on Richard III that must find Laurence Olivier spinning in his grave.

The company’s frustrated general manager and accountant (Wally Dunn) announces that their subscription base has dropped drastically and that the troupe is threatened with loss of its vital grant. In an attempt to appease the National Endowment for the Arts and go multicultural, a black actor is enrolled to play the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. But a severe case of stage fright forces him to freeze at every turn. Randy Donaldson plays the role with a wide-eyed, heightened comic sense of fear and trembling.

Michael Mastro is Phil Hewlit, the actor poised to portray Bob Crachit. A troublesome and dubious sciatic nerve disorder serves as his excuse not to carry pudgy Tiny Tim (Christopher J. Stewart) upon his shoulders.

Dan Lauria as the definitive curmudgeon Scrooge suggests a blunt new finale of the beloved story sans its comforting resolution. As the seasoned old British darlings, the exquisite Peggy Cosgrove is paired with MacIntyre Dixon. As the ghost of Jacob Marley, the latter fumbles his entrance cues and drags chains that manage to get tangled on door jams.

Giving the piece its balance are the more mannered performances of Catherine Cox as a seductive director and Mary Catherine Wright as a bullying, impatient stage manager.

Saint has directed this nonsense with an energetic hand and a keen awareness of the play’s requirement of a quickening pace. A comicbook backdrop of a Victorian street with its shops and tilted dwellings serves to define a Christmas-card London.

Inspecting Carol

George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, N.J.; 380 seats; $66 top

Production

A George Street Playhouse presentation of a play in two acts by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theater Resident Company. Directed by David Saint.

Creative

Set, R. Michael Miller; costumes, Brenda King; lighting and sound; Christopher J. Bailey; production stage manager, Thomas Clewell. Opened Dec. 2, 2005. Reviewed Dec. 8. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

M.J. McMann - Mary Catherine Wright Spike - Aaron Wilton Bert Francis - John Keller Wayne Wellacre - Peter Scolari Zorah Bloch - Catherine Cox Luther Beatty - Christopher J. Stewart Sidney Carlton - MacIntyre Dixon Dorothy Tree-Hapgood - Peggy Cosgrave Phil Hewlit - Michael Mastro Walter E. Parsons - Randy Donaldson Kevin Emery - Wally Dunn Larry Vauxhall - Dan Lauria

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