Set in a struggling regional theatre, “Inspecting Carol” is a play all about the grim realities of small theatre with tiny budgets and the constant threat of their arts funding drying up and the doors permanently closing.
In today's climate of “What do we need the arts for?” this threat is an all to daily nightmare for theatres. Surviving on grants and endowments and the will of the gods, cooking the books and keeping the landlords at bay long enough to put on a play and hope for full houses is common practice.
Barry Pearl. Photo by Barbara Mazeika.
This particular theatre has been running on air for several seasons and the director/producer/everything, Zorah, finally caves and hires an accountant to help her pay the bills. Of course, hiring an accountant doesn’t actually mean they will be able to conjure up cash. So when Zorah is given the bad news by Kevin the accountant that they are broke, or rather they are in debt and close to bankruptcy, it’s hardly the news she was hoping for. The only dim light of hope lies in the impending visit from a representative from the Arts Council, who are giving the company one last chance to save their grant…as long as they like what they see in the Christmas show. Their annual productions of “A Christmas Carol” is a well worn classic that the cast are more than tired of, although it usually pays the bills for the entire year.
Back row: Ron Rezac, J. Bailey Burcham, Paul Panico and Dan Tullis, Jr. Center row: Cindy Pearl, Vivien Latham, Melissa Strauss. Front row: Sean Spence, Nora Kulkarni, Barry Pearl. Photo by Barbara Mazeika.
A potential spanner in their works is the sudden appearance of a rookie actor keen to audition and prove his metal. Zorah mistakes him for the inspector, offers him a role in the play and allows him the run of the place. Chaos ensues of course, along with a lot of laughs and the most ridiculous and inspiringly awful truncated version of “A Christmas Carol” I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. It really would have Dickens turning in his Victorian grave.
I have to say that although Christmas in September might be a reach for some, I myself am always ready for some caroling, and the AC creates just the right amount of chill in the air. This is a cast of characters that really belong only in regional theatre - flamboyant dames, overacting narcissist, sleepy tech guys and a precocious child actor who has long outgrown his part and his wardrobe, the aging actor playing his hapless father bent under the weight of his “Tiny Tim.”
The cast rebels, even knowing the stakes, and creates a sort of Dickensian dystopian nightmare of a play around the growing ego of the imposter actor who figures out why he has been embraced by the company and selfishly plays along. He and the company’s “Ebenezer” careen them all into a car crash of a production, all under the transfixed gaze of the real inspector who, as it turns out, is actually in the audience. Everyone is in equal measures wonderful and wonderfully bad.
I will leave you to imagine how this unravels, although I can tell you that it’s quite brilliantly and hilariously done. There is something about watching desperate people in desperate situations where their hopes and dreams are shredding in front of you that is particularly amusing…and this group of actors does their ‘desperate’ beautifully.
It’s never too early for Christmas, and Thousand Oaks has a certain crispness in the air already, however, this is a very short run so down dawdle and get a move on to the Hillcrest Center for The Arts in Thousand Oaks.
Running September 7 - 23, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm
Hillcrest Center for The Performing Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest Dr. Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
Barry Pearl – “Kevin Emery”
Cindy Pearl – “Zorah Bloch”
Dan Tullis Jr. – “Walter E. Parsons”
Vivien Latham – “Dorothy Tree-Hapgood” Sean Spence – “Wayne Wellacre”
Ron Rezac – “Phil Hewlitt”
Melissa Strauss – “MJ (Mary Jane) McMann” Marcello Silva – "Luther Beatty"
J. Bailey Burcham – “Larry Vauxhall”
Nora Kulkarni – “Betty Andrew”
Sam Herbert – “Bart Frances”
Paul Panico – “Sidney Carlton”
Playwright Daniel Sullivan Director Kirsten Chandler Producer Paul Thomas Panico Jr Producer Panic! Productions Set Designer Jeff Calnitz
Lighting Designer Shara Abvabi
Costume Designer Barbara Mazeika
Stage Manager Tawni Eccles
Marketing Carla Gabriela Rivera and Panic! Productions Publicity Sandra Kuker PR