This farce, directed by Jeff Kean, and presented “with apologies to Charles Dickens,” is a mashup of “A Christmas Carol” and “Noises Off,” with a bit of “Waiting for Guffman” thrown in. It may be one of the funniest Christmas shows you will ever see.
The action takes place at the financially struggling Soapbox Theater Company, a nonprofit regional group that has been together for many years, so that all of the members know each other well and have endured the touchy egos, financial woes, backstage romances, physical ills, and all the things that go into groups of this nature. They are rehearsing for their 12th annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”
The group is peopled by the quirky actors you might find in any theater company of this kind (and, in fact, the play’s characters originally were based on the then-members of the Seattle Repertory Company).
There is “the star,” Larry (Mike Maples) who postures like a Barrymore, and continually rewrites the scripts to make them socially relevant, whether his changes may be relevant to the actual play itself.
There is the old couple, founding members, Sidney (Paul Greisen), now getting a bit dotty, and his wife Dorothy (Laure Olson), who is British and unable to lose her accent, though hilarious when she adopts a different one for her role in the show.
Phil (Alan Smuda) is the stalwart who takes on the reliable characters, though he is getting old now and suffering physical problems.
Luther (Cole Hein) is a young man who has been playing Tiny Tim for so long that he is now a tall, robust adolescent and causes problems for Phil’s ailing back when being carried.
Wanda (Nita Christi, who is sometimes identified as “Walter” in the program) is new to Soapbox Theater this year, in its attempt to diversify and add some “color” to the cast.
Onto the scene comes Wayne (Tim Gaffaney), a wannabe actor, hoping to audition for a role — any role — with a local theater company. Having been told by the stage manager M.J. (Melissa Dahlberg) that this is a “professional” company and that he must be a union member to audition, he lies to director Zorah (Patricia Glass) to get a foot in the door.
Zorah, prone to histrionics (she’s Lithuanian, you know) is having her own problems, having just been informed by the financial manager Kevin (Jake Hopkins) that the company is out of money and that the National Endowment for the Arts has threatened to withdraw its grant this year, pending a visit by an inspector to see if they really deserve it.
When it becomes obvious that Wayne is no actor, everyone assumes he is the NEA inspector, there incognito to spy on them. As a result, Wayne is hired and catered to, resulting in a burgeoning of his already inflated ego.
There is a lot of exposition that needs to go on in Act 1 and it does get a bit long, though there are very funny bits, like the company all warming up before the rehearsal that never quite happens. But the zany farce that is Act 2 more than makes it all worthwhile.
Act 2 is made up mostly of lengthy excerpts from the actual “Christmas Carol” production, but to try to explain it would, first of all, be impossible and, secondly, spoil the fun. Suffice it to say this is the funniest version of the Dickens classic you will ever see.
While fine performances are offered up by all of the cast (which is rounded out by Horacio Gonzalez as Bart, the stagehand and occasional actor, and Mary Dahlberg as Betty, the real NEA inspector), outstanding performances are given by Maples as the classic actor, Glass as the director and Olson as the eccentric Dorothy.
High marks to go set designer John Bowles and Denise Miles for her costume design, especially for Betty’s final costume.
“Inspecting Carol” runs through Dec. 23. Don’t miss it! Be aware that some language may not be appropriate for young children, but it’s probably nothing they don’t hear on TV every day.