A very funny, rather anti-Christmas-sentimentality play is gaining popularity in community theaters, especially in the Treasure Valley, where two playhouses are presenting it this weekend.
What is the charm and draw of Inspecting Carol? Perhaps it's because it embodies Mark Twain's critique: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."
Inspecting Carol pokes fun at actors, satirizes the rehearsal process plays go through, and gets in lots of humorous digs at Dickens' Christmas Carol, which is the play the bumbling "professional" company is trying to present. Director Barb Brookshire manages the large cast with skill and creativity, and keeps the pace very lively, with incredible costumes popping up in every scene.
The gimmick for the plot is money--or the lack of it. The Soapbox Playhouse is a small regional theater on the verge of losing its funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. This means it's broke, as the no-nonsense bookkeeper (Elisabeth Kimble) keeps telling them. (Perhaps because it does such shows as the "musical comedy" To Kill a Mockingbird.)
At this juncture, a would-be actor arrives to audition. Cody Dansereau is hilarious as he snarls out a scene from Shakespeare's Richard III, horrifying the actors (and the audience), until they get the mistaken idea that since he's so bad, he's not really an actor--so maybe he's the inspector in disguise from the arts endowment. From here on, it's cater and curtsy to his every statement, suggestion or whim.
The artistic director, Zorah Bloch, played by Tracey A. Calascione with an incredible histrionic flair, tries to seduce him, succeeding only in scaring him. Hard working Jen Potcher is the stressed stage manager who brightens every scene with her wild clothing as she tries to keep her unruly actors focused on rehearsal. Joe Wallace is hysterical as the burly Bob Crachit with the bad back, trying to carry in an oversized Tiny Tim (Adam Wallace).
Rod Horn's performance is one of the funniest in the show, with his squeaky voice, big-rimmed glasses and his enactment of the ghost of Jacob Marley. Sharona Dringle as his British wife limps gamely on her injured foot and adopts a strange New York accent so she won't be the only actor with an English accent in the Dickens' play.
The show's Scrooge is played by John Wallace as a domineering, egomaniac who keeps inserting Marxist lines and actions in Scrooge's part. In spite of some shaky lines, Wallace keeps the laughs coming as he breaks into Spanish, abuses the poor taped-up cardboard Christmas turkey and battles a resistant tombstone.
When Dorraine Denney arrives as the real inspector, the show dissolves into madness and pandemonium of classic proportions. Denny is an absolutely regal NEA rep and has surprises up her sleeve.
This play may not put you in the usual holiday spirit, but it will entertain you royally.
Inspecting Carol by Daniel Sullivan and The Seattle Repertory Theatre, directed by Barb Brookshire for CAN-ACT, upstairs in Karcher Mall, Nampa. 7 p.m. Thursday, $7; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $8. For reservations, call 442-0676 or visit www. can-act.org.