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Whereas Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol is poignantly filled with moral lessons, Daniel Sullivan’s satirical Inspecting Carol is just as irreverent. Nothing is too sacred and off limits.

Written in 1991, Inspecting Carol is about a third rate Midwestern community theater that has fallen down on their luck losing half of their subscriber base and their much needed funding from the National Endowment of the Arts. Meanwhile, internal drama is so high that it is not surprising the cast is unable to get through any rehearsals especially when a former telemarketer with misdirected aspirations arrives with such an irreverent and over-the-top Richard III monologue that Sir Laurence Olivier must be spinning in his grave alongside Charles Dickens and anyone else referenced in this farce. To make things zanier for the cast and crew, the actor wannabe is mistaken for the NEA inspector who is expected at any moment. As Director Kirsten Chandler said, “Inspecting Carol isn’t really about a play gone wrong; it more about a group of thespians so muddled, it will be a miracle if they even get to the play itself.” And what a group of thespians as performed by this fabulously hilarious cast headlined by Grease’s Barry Pearl.

J. Bailey Burcham, Ron Rezac. Photo by Barbara Mazeika. (c) Panic Productions.

Barry Pearl plays Kevin Emery, the company’s emotional eating GM and accountant, in his first role opposite his real-life wife, Cindy Pearl, who plays the egocentric “Director” Zorah Bloch who uses her Lithuanian background as an excuse for her temper. Sean Spence is Wayne Wellacre, the talentless actor with mistaken identity who gets caught up in rewriting Dickens’ Christmas Carol play with the recently divorced and intellectually vain Larry Vauxhall (played larger than life by J. Bailey Burcham) who last year recited his role in Spanish.

Ron Rezac plays Phil Hewlitt (Bob Cratchitt) who does a fabulous psychical job with the sight gags demonstrating a suspicious traveling sciatic nerve disorder to avoid carrying Tiny Tim (Marcello Silva as the technologically savvy Luther Beatty) who is no longer “Tiny”.

Paul Panico and Vivien Latham play husband and wife company members, Sidney Carlton and Dorothy Tree-Hapgood, who do a fabulous job of not overdoing their gags (which are some of the funniest of the show) and providing some sanity to the cast of mismatched actors. Dan Tullis Jr. (Walter E. Parsons) was a favorite of the evening earning some of the biggest tear-spilling laughs especially during the play within a play. I can’t spoil the gag because it’s just too good.

Rounding out the cast are Melissa Strauss as MJ (the put upon stage manager who has a panic attack during the play within a play), Sam Herbert as Bart Frances (the youth who plays bit parts and works the sound booth) and Nora Kulkarni as the real inspector.

Barry Pearl as Kevin Emery. Photo by Barbara Mazeika. (c) Panic Productions.

Chandler has directed this nonsensical and zany piece with a quickening pace and fabulous use of all the space in the Hillcrest Center for the Arts‘ black box theater. The first act flew so quickly that the audience was hesitant and uncertain if they should get up when the lights rose for intermission.

Unfortunately the show’s weakness cannot be helped by any of these talented cast and crew members. Yes, the show is funny and riddled with sight gags, theatre jokes, and irreverent jokes where nothing is sacred. Jokes are made at the expense of Lithuanians, African-Americans, Mexicans, Liberace, Jeff Sessions, sciatic nerve disorders, panic attacks, poverty, womanizing and the list goes on. However, whereas Carol is a story of redemption and love, I could not quite decipher what might be Inspecting Carol’s overarching theme and moral lesson. So while Panic! Productions‘ audience will have a jolly good time this September it is a show that will likely pass on without any likely Ventura County revivals whereas Christmas Carol will play on for the ages and gather sold out audiences time and time again.
Also, it is only September and so many an audience member such as myself and the ladies who were seated behind me will find the use of so much Christmas music (live before the performance and during intermission) jarring and a bit too much.
The Company. Photo by Barbara Mazeika. (c) Panic Productions.
Dates: September 7 – 23, 2018
Rating: PG-13 for adult content and brief strong language including one use of the F word, several d@mns, sh!t and numerous taking of the Lord’s name in vain.
Disclaimer: I had my ticket comped for review purposes but all opinions are my own.