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Satirical 'Carol' a Jolly Christmas Show

THEATER REVIEW

October 31, 1996|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Should Christmas shows be allowed to open before Halloween? Yes, if they're as funny as "Inspecting Carol," at Ivy Substation.

Maybe this satire's irreverent wit and broad sight gags aren't for everyone. It helps to be a fairly regular theatergoer, especially one who knows the politics of nonprofit theater. It's even better if you've seen too many "Christmas Carols."

If that describes you, "Inspecting Carol" is a delight. True, the characterizations are thin and the ending implausible. But who cares when the laughs are this huge?

Created in 1991 by Daniel Sullivan, Seattle Repertory Theatre artistic director, in conjunction with members of that theater's resident company, and introduced to the Southland by Laguna Playhouse two years ago, "Inspecting Carol" takes us to the Soap Box Theatre, a resident theater company somewhere in the Midwest.

It's time for the annual "Christmas Carol," but this year the company has more woes than the Cratchits. Half of the subscribers haven't renewed, and the annual grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is in danger--unless an NEA inspector gives the company a favorable report.

The theater's managing director (Forrest Witt) delivers this news to founding director Zorah Bloch (Maria Spassoff) on the same day that a stranger (Andrew Philpot) arrives, ostensibly to audition. In a plot twist taken, more or less, from Gogol's "The Inspector General," Bloch and company jump to the conclusion that the newcomer is the dreaded NEA rep, working incognito.

He's not only hired as an actor, but his opinion is revered as he makes suggestions about the company's "Carol." He's wined and dined, and Bloch even makes an awkward pass at him.

That the inspector is a terrible actor and an even worse director has little effect as the company turns cartwheels to accommodate him. The show devolves into chaos--just in time for the appearance of the real inspector (Lori Thimsen), who has only a few hours to witness the results before she files her report.

So the company is forced to present excerpts from the worst "Christmas Carol" ever, as parts of Gary Wissman's clever set come tumbling down.

Check out the black actor (Rif Hutton) whose last-minute casting as the play's ghost is the sum total of the theater's "multicultural initiative," designed to please the NEA. Or the company's Scrooge (J. Patrick McCormack) who wants the show to make a statement about Central America, or the English actress (Robyn Rose Merrill) who must master an American accent in order to blend better.

David Rose's staging for Singular Productions has a few moments of debatable excess, but it's hard to argue with the results. O'er the fields we go, laughing all the way.

* "Inspecting Carol," Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; this Sunday, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 14. $18; admission free this Friday for all actors. (310) 558-1555. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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