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‘Inspecting Carol’ chases away the bah-humbug blues
“Scrooge.” The name conjures cheapness, and in the case of “Inspecting Carol,” Drama Dock’s new production of Daniel Sullivan’s farcical inversion of the Dickens original, it’s appropriate that the National Endowment for the Arts plays the miser.
The object of the NEA’s disaffection is the Soapbox Playhouse, a Midwestern regional nonprofit much resembling Seattle Repertory, where Sullivan was artistic director.
Soapbox is supposed to be putting on its 12th iteration of “A Christmas Carol,” and the cast and crew are tired of it. It’s a cash cow, though, so the show must go on.
But it won’t if NEA doesn’t come through with a $30,000 grant, without which Soapbox dies. And to top that off, Soapbox gets the word that an NEA rep will be coming to inspect the theater. If they pass muster, they get the money.
No inspector in her right mind would approve the screwed-up revision of “Carol” the no-account bumblers of Soapbox create out of their 12-year weariness. Or so it seems. But the real Vashon audience of last Saturday afternoon gave its own verdict: lots of laughter and a loving ovation for the poignant silliness of “Inspecting Carol,” an inside-joke about theater life.
Let’s start with Larry Vauxhall’s Scrooge, who wants to pitch Tiny Tim as a third-world victim of heartless capitalism. Chaim Rosemarin well-renders Vauxhall with all his radical righteousness, both artistic and political.
Right behind him is Walter E. Parsons (Vashon High School sophomore Kenese Parker), the black thespian hired in the name of “multi-cultural” casting who’s not interested in being a liberal about it.
And of course it was Zorah Bloch (the director/artistic director) who hired Walter for all the wrong reasons and whose over-the-top emotions (“I’m Lithuanian,” she explains) are embodied excellently by Dock veteran Lisa Breen.
Breen is well-matched by another long-time Docker, Dianna Ammon, who plays Bloch’s sidekick Mary Jane, the stage manager with a sly tongue and darting eyes behind goofy brown-rimmed glasses.
The Soapbox’s Bob Cratchit is led by Phil Hewlet (played by Islander Peter Kreitner), who had a one-night stand with Zorah a while back and thinks it’s still on.
Kreitner expertly manifests all of Phil’s emotional pain — as well as his physical suffering, due to the fact that Luther Beatty (Islander Quinn McTighe), the kid who’s been playing Tim for the past 12 years, has outgrown his role. He’s very heavy, and the two have a devil of a time getting through the door with Tim on Bob’s back.
Dorothy Tree-Hapgood as Mrs. Cratchit is the English half of a classically trained couple who ostentatiously shifts her accent from Brit to something south of Connecticut to fit in with the American cast performing English characters in American English.
Patricia Kelly’s hilariously haughty Tree-Hapgood is paired with Gordon Millar’s wry and funny Scot Sidney Carlton — Marley’s ghost in the play who can’t handle all those chains.
Gaye Detzer, who recently moved into acting with Drama Dock after many years as musical director, plays Karen Trent Emery, the Soapbox fundraiser, with expert facial and tonal variation.
And Kirstin Eastman exemplifies the extreme of physical ditziness as crew member Barb Frances, who operates and occasionally misfires the stage mechanics, creating some delightfully farcical moments.
That leaves two characters who are essentially outsiders.
Wayne Wellacre is a talentless computer nerd (played by the very fine Jeff Woollen) who wants to act and gets his dream fulfilled when he comes on as Luther’s much larger replacement for Tim.
And finally, Betty Andrews is the inspector, played with quiet skill by Shannon Flora.
It’s rollicking good fun — lively, bawdy and a perfect antidote to the gloom of these long winter nights.
— Eric Horsting is a longtime theater reviewer.
The final three performances of “Inspecting Carol” take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (tonight), Saturday, Dec. 26 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27, at Blue Heron Art Center. Tickets, $10 to $15, are available at Vashon Bookshop, Books by the Way, Blue Heron, brownpapertickets.com and at the door, if available. Parents are advised that the play has mature language.