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Inspecting Carol

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 11/21/2001

Inspecting Carol

Brian Klaas

Tired of the same old A Christmas Carol? So are the actors who perform it every year. That's the premise behind veteran director and former Seattle Repertory Theatre artistic director Daniel Sullivan's Inspecting Carol. By poking fun at the holiday classic and its status as an annual fund-raiser for theater troupes, the slapstick production has started to become a seasonal fixture itself.

Inspecting follows high-strung artistic director Zorah (Jennifer Brown) as she tries to throw together a production of A Christmas Carol with just four days of rehearsal while dealing with her company's near-bankruptcy and the possibility that its $30,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant may be revoked. Her cast isn't helping matters either. Bob Cratchit is doggedly trying to get in her pants, Tiny Tim is far from tiny, and Scrooge is attempting to turn the Dickens classic into a tale about oppression of the Third World. To make matters worse, the NEA is sending an inspector to decide whether or not to pull the grant, and Zorah mistakes enthusiastic but incredibly wretched actor Wayne for the inspector and puts him in the play in order to suck up.

Despite these hijinks, the first half of AXIS Theatre's production is slow and awkward. Director Brian Klaas' pacing is unfortunately stilted, and Jack Manion's Wayne is so one-note that it's difficult to tell whether he is supposed to be a bad actor or an incredibly chipper psychopath. But the show picks up speed in the second half as the cast goes depicting the most hysterically awful version of A Christmas Carol imaginable and Manion finds his stride as a Tiny Tim with a disturbing resemblance to Richard III. Joel Shepherd's set--from the silhouetted backdrop to the many odd things that pop up from the floorboards--deserves kudos, and the cast is delightfully game. Mark Campion's daffy Sidney/Marley is endearing, and Mary Alice Feather's British-actress-turned-country-bumpkin Mrs. Cratchit is a hoot. Darlene Deardoff is wonderfully snarky as the frustrated stage manager, and Unique Bowser's Walter--the much-maligned ghosts of Christmas Present and Future, as well as a Third World baby--is terrific. If the production builds as much energy in the first half as it does in the second, AXIS' Inspecting Carol could help cement the farce as a holiday classic in its own right.

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