Arts and Entertainment

‘Inspecting Carol’ revels in calamitous comedy at WICA

Annie Horton and Dwight Zehm join the fray in the farcical holiday production “Inspecting Carol,” opening Friday, Dec. 5 at WICA. - Patricia Duff / The Record
Annie Horton and Dwight Zehm join the fray in the farcical holiday production “Inspecting Carol,” opening Friday, Dec. 5 at WICA.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

If you are going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance.

That’s a theater saying.

And it sums up why thespians take the risk of walking out onto the stage each night, never really knowing what will happen.

That’s what makes the theater so exciting.

Former Seattle Repertory Theater artistic director Daniel Sullivan capitalized on this fact when he fashioned a spoof of the famous stage version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

“Inspecting Carol” follows the theatrical exploits of the nearly bankrupt Soapbox Theatre Company, which is having a dickens of a time with its annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Tiny Tim is a bit old, Marley keeps getting his chains tangled in the scenery and there is an inspector from the National Endowment for the Arts expected any minute to peruse the premises and yea or nay the company’s funding.

When an inept new actor arrives, the stage is set for a classic case of mistaken identity — with horrifying but hilarious results.

Taking his cue from classic theatrical door slammers like “Noises Off” and the dry, tongue-in-cheek humor of films such as “Waiting for Guffman,” Sullivan hits the funnybone time and time again with this one.

Whidbey Island Center for the Arts offers fun for the whole family with “Inspecting Carol,” this year’s holiday offering, which opens Friday, Dec. 5 and runs through Dec. 20.

The show is directed by Don Wilkins, who said he thought the play was funny when he read it the first time.

“But also, the second, third and fourth time

I read it, it was still funny,” Wilkins said.

Having been born into a theatrical family in London and having continued to participate in all aspects of the theater since then, Wilkins has been around the block more than a few times when it comes to the ups and downs of producing community theater.

That reality, Wilkins said, made directing “Inspecting Carol” a most interesting experience.

“It’s very important to watch carefully during rehearsals, that’s when you discover the actor’s strengths,” Wilkins said.

Although the script for “Inspecting Carol” is based on humor, the director said, there is an extraordinary amount of anger in these characters which has to be handled delicately.

“I direct the actors to not go for the laugh,” Wilkins said.

“It is their job to go about achieving their objectives truthfully on-stage. Audiences are drawn in by what’s real and true.”

Though, in “Inspecting Carol,” the theater may seem momentarily like the Twilight Zone, the humorous version.

“At the opening of the play, the audience might think they have come on the wrong night and stumbled upon the Soapbox Playhouse whose cast is in rehearsal for its umpteenth version of that old chestnut, ‘A Christmas Carol,’" Wilkins said.

What follows, the director said, is a large dose of reality. The actors are at odds with each other. There’s bickering and fighting over a myriad of issues with the actors and crew blaming their woes on every conceivable thing from current political issues to the personal and mundane.

“So here they are, fighting among themselves, when suddenly a knight in shining armor appears and there is hope for all of them,” Wilkins said.

Or is there?

Morgan Bondelid plays the stage manager of the Soapbox.

“We seriously spend so much time laughing in rehearsals, it’s like art imitating life imitating art. It has been so much fun,” Bondelid said.

“Inspecting Carol” is something to laugh at, and it seems actors spoofing actors is a tonic unto itself,” Wilkins said.

Initially scripted by Sullivan, the play was developed and fleshed out by the Seattle Repertory resident company at the time. The play’s characters reflect the personalities of those company members. It cleverly creates a six-degrees-of-separation-scenario on several levels in the theater world.

The richness of the play is enhanced by the fact that it deals with serious issues concerning government funding of the arts and the pressures affecting the programming and policies at regional theatres in such an amusing and witty fashion.

“It comes to us at at time when we all really do need a good laugh,” Wilkins said.

“And on behalf of the Soapbox Playhouse, we wish you all a Merry Christmas.”

The cast also includes Tom Churchill, Sophie Frank, Annie Horton, Kent Junge, Gail Liston, Brian Plebanek, Kathy Stanley, Kyle Stevens, Larry Woolworth and Dwight Zehm.

Tickets range in price from $12 to $16, with discounts available for students and groups.

Tickets are available at the Web site; Click here or call 221-8268 or 800-638-7631.

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