November 28, 2002

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Theater Review—
Poking fun at the theater

By Louise Smith

Any theater group that takes on presenting Inspecting Carol gets to recapitulate some key questions that every artist asks herself at some time or another: What master do I serve, art or commerce? Who is my audience? How can I make art and eat? What is the balance between a unique, uncompromising artistic vision and a mess?

In the play, these questions are irreverently posed in the context of a struggling theater company’s production of A Christmas Carol and the impending visit by the National Endowment for the Arts inspector. The theater, the fictitious Soapbox Players, has been informed that they will not get their much needed funding unless they pass an inspection that assures the government that they have remedied their “significant artistic deficit.”

What ensues is a sometimes magnificently funny turn of events that hinge on a case of mistaken identity and the dreams of a bad would-be actor. Also involved are a balding fake turkey, an errant theatrical lighting instrument, a piñata and some strategically placed sacks of bird seed.

I do not wish to spoil the fun for potential audiences of Inspecting Carol, the fall play produced by the Yellow Springs High School Drama Club’s and Thespian Troupe #4671, which opened last weekend and continues this weekend at the Antioch Theater. But I would like to applaud the effort of all involved to stage a sophisticated comedy about the theater that pokes fun at small theater companies and the sometimes bizarre ways they are forced to survive in a country where the budget for military bands exceeds that of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Marcia Nowik’s direction grants a level of theatricality that is appropriate to this comic investigation of the small not-for-profit theater world. The staging allows the actors to create characters who are as large as the theater itself, but still lifelike. We all recognize these people and their foibles.

The company of actors feels very much like a real company. Many of the players in Inspecting Carol have worked together before in both the high school plays and in YS Kids Playhouse productions. Their work is a fine example of ensemble playing while at the same time highlighting vivid individual characters. Mori Rothman’s first entrance as the unwitting Wayne Wellacre emblematically defines him for us as the unwilling protagonist of the play who makes a huge splash by the end. Paia LaPalombara as M.J., the stage manager, has believable authority and sarcasm, and Erin Silvert-Noftle’s Zora, the Lithuanian director who has “a lot of anger,” is fiery and energetic, sucking lollipops two at a time to calm herself down.

Particularly memorable are Glenn Reed and Rose Blakelock as an old fashioned theater couple. They have managed to transform themselves into believable middle-aged hams.

Martin Bakari plays Walter, the nontraditionally cast actor who is never given a chance to rehearse his part. His various appearances as reluctant, ridiculously clad ghosts are a highlight of the play.

Charlie Cromer is appropriately hysterical as Kevin Emory, the business manager. James Hyde and Patrick Holihan are wonderfully accurate in their characterization of the various manifestations of the actor’s ego, and Aaron Zaremsky rounds out the principle cast as a not-so-tiny Tiny Tim.

Supporting roles by Monica Erickson, Eve GunderKline, Hallie Cranos, Matt Zaremsky, Kevin Malarkey and John Hempfling create opportunities for witty visual jokes using a scrim, a trap door and an unruly tombstone. Costumes by Rose Byrne were just right and all the elements of set, lighting and sound were effectively coordinated by Lydia Gerthoffer, the tech coordinator, and Jacque Laurens, the stage manager.

Inspecting Carol is the result of the efforts of about 75 people, students, parents and teachers. In the words of Tiny Tim, sort of, “God bless them every one!”

Inspecting Carol continues Friday, Nov. 29, 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 1, at 2 p.m., at the Antioch Theater. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the door.