This probably goes without saying, but the Artists Repertory Theatre's (ART) production of Inspecting Carol is not for everyone. It's a holiday play, a subgenre of theater that some people would prefer to banish all together: Around the holidays, audiences are finally allowed to abandon all pretense of giving a shit about art, and get to wallow in cheap sentiment for a season. And Inspecting Carol is very much a holiday play: inoffensive, lighthearted, feel good. Not only that, but a play that spoofs A Christmas Carol makes a few assumptions about its audience. This is very much a play for the theatergoing set—jokes about Glengarry Glen Ross won't work for everyone, nor will everyone be able to embrace a premise that hinges on a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant. All disclaimers aside, if you know what you're in for, this is a fun, entertaining production—cheesy as all get out, but that goes with the territory.
In a nutshell, Inspecting Carol is about a struggling local theater company in rehearsals for their annual production of A Christmas Carol. The company's director is informed that their NEA grant is about to get yanked, pending a review by an agency inspector. When the squirrelly Wayne Wellacre (Mark Schwann) shows up, everyone assumes that he is the undercover inspector, and so bends over backward to accommodate him. In fact, Wayne is just a bad actor looking for work. The production goes horribly awry, and holiday hilarity ensues.
In other hands, this piece could easily be pretty unbearable, but ART has the solid ensemble necessary to pull it off. Most of the jokes come off quite well, thanks to a cast that knows what to do with a punchline. Standouts include Vana O'Brien as an aging British voice coach, and Mark Schwann's turn as the unbelievably terrible actor Wayne (whose rendition of Tiny Tim is hilarious). Todd Van Voris is fantastic as well; he has great comedic timing and it's nice to see him in such a lighthearted role.
While for the most part this production comes off successfully, there were some issues with pacing. The last few scenes drag a bit, and a brisker pace could've kept the comedy from flagging.
The audience on opening night ate this play up; during curtain call, everyone started clapping in unison to "Feliz Navidad," then went home feeling like they'd just gotten their money's worth. If you're looking for holiday-themed entertainment, this show is a safe bet: It's funny and well acted, and ART keeps the holiday schlock to a bare minimum.