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NC State’s University Theater is showcasing its brand-new digs in Thompson Hall as they again present a major work in the newly-redesigned Titmus Theater, a complete remake of their main stage in what was once Thompson Theater. The new space, with comfy chairs and high-tech design, completely upstages this month’s show, a nod to Christmas in the form of a loony farce, Inspecting Carol.
The work is the brainchild of Daniel Sullivan, who, with the Seattle Repertory Theatre, stage-worked this little whippersnapper into a full two-act theater piece. The work, however, has its problems, and professional companies have attempted it with only passing success. This college cast puts in an energetic and enthusiastic attempt. But this bare-bones farce, one that depends on mistaken identity and broad strokes of slapstick to wrangle a laugh, keeps even this gung-ho cast from making too much of a Christmas splash.
The setting is the Soapbox Theater, a small professional theater in a mid-sized Midwest town. The company is in the middle of its annual fundraiser, a “gala” presentation of A Christmas Carol, but the group is having its usual share of difficulties. Because it is an annual Christmas presentation, and because of “financial restraints,” the show is only scheduled for four rehearsals before opening night. So the cast is a touch overwhelmed.
The stage manager, MJ McMann (Jordan Manning), is attempting to bring the cast back together after one of many scheduled breaks during the first rehearsal when she is interrupted by a stranger. He says he has an appointment with the director, Zorah Bloch (Maddison Harris), for an audition to join the company. Wayne Wellacre (Christian O’Neal) is a ham wannabe who has been touring the country, auditioning for anyone who will sit still for it, and this is his last and final hope of “following his bliss.”
McMann has already witnessed this guy’s terrible attempts at acting and relegates him to nut-case status before Bloch arrives on the scene. But Bloch has already spoken with the theater’s general manager, Kevin Emercy (Tyler James Haggard). Kevin informs her that the NEA grant they are absolutely depending on for their livelihood is in jeopardy; it is being withheld until the NEA can send an “inspector” to see if continued funding is appropriate. This not only makes Bloch even more emotional; it makes her irrational. The two of them convince themselves that Wellacre is, in fact, the Inspector they are dreading, here incognito to test their mettle. Madness ensues, as the remaining cast is made aware of the “situation,” and all of them stumble over themselves to welcome this unsuspecting fellow into their fold.
Suffice it to say that everything goes wrong, in spades. Larry Vauxhall (Paul Brothers), the egotistical lead playing Scrooge, wreaks havoc, causing rewrites and interludes that make for terrible theater, to the point that poor Walter Parsons, the newest member of the cast (Justin Hamilton), cannot even learn his lines for opening night. And Wellacre is so poor an actor that, even though he wrangles his way into a speaking role, he torpedoes the show. When the real inspector from the NEA, Betty Andrews (Jaime Harwood), shows up, she is so assaulted by the dismal results that she goes into shock and must be revived from an apoplectic meltdown.
The members of this cast do their absolute best; I cannot think of anything that they could have done better. All give energetic performances and take on this monster with youthful gusto and monumental effort. Director John C. McIlwee squeezes every last laugh out of this play that he can, but this beast is a snorer. The gentleman next to me dozed through the first act, and he and his wife left at intermission. What is supposed to be a gut-buster and a knee-slapper was neither. Sometimes, even the best efforts of a cast cannot raise a play up to the level of its hype. This play is billed as a rollicking farce, but it just doesn’t live up to its billing.
It continues through 11/21 and then resumes 12/1-5, at the Titmus. See our calendar for details.