2nd Story Theatre’s Artistic Director Ed Shea well selected An Inspector Calls as the company’s late autumn production. J.B. Priestley’s haunting tale serves as a non-traditional Christmas Carol, an examination of actions and consequences, accountability, and simple human kindness.
The Birling family enjoys a comfortable fortune and strong societal standing, both assets poised to improve further still when daughter Shelia marries Gerald Croft, the son of a prosperous and well-connected businessman. Yet even as the Birlings and Gerald gather to toast the upcoming nuptials, their celebratory dinner party is disturbed by an unexpected knock at the door.
That one knock heralds not only the interruption of the Birlings’ festive evening, but also the disruption of their rigid worldview. The inquiry into a young, working-class woman’s suicide – a “regrettable” circumstance the well-to-do characters are entirely certain has no connection to or claim on their circle of influence – swiftly calls each member of the dinner party to account for self-absorbed past actions and careless treatment of their fellow man.
The courtroom of the Bristol Statehouse provides the perfect atmosphere for An Inspector Calls, and 2nd Story’s cast flawlessly presents Priestley’s clever and thought-provoking work. The material is beautifully paced and balanced well to provide both humor and charm while also steadily building foreboding, tension, and mystery as the Inspector’s investigation unfolds.
Vince Petronio skillfully plays the enigmatic Inspector Goole, demonstrating intensity and magnetism as the policeman questions the family. When Goole’s unorthodox observations prompt unplanned, unrestrained confessions from Gerald and the Birling family, Petronio becomes nearly invisible, his unobtrusive presence providing a quiet air of judgment before the other characters’ petty, small-minded actions and hastily hidden sins.
Tom Roberts and Joan Batting fully embody the self-satisfied airs and graces characteristic of both the elder Birlings’ generation and their social position. Roberts and Batting perfectly present Arthur and Sybil’s refusal to let the unfortunate girl’s death – or their unintentional roles in her downward spiral – infringe on their myopic, class- and status-obsessed sensibilities. Even at the most ominous moments of the Inspector’s investigation, Roberts and Batting remain stoic, poised and unflappable; they only break their remarkable composure at the thoughts of a possible public scandal.
The younger Birlings, siblings Shelia and Eric, face the consequences of their actions with far more consideration than their parents, and Laura Sorensen and Jeff Church capture these transitions with authenticity and honesty. Sorensen subtly converts Shelia from flighty girlishness to a maturity born of regret, and Church balances the humorous moments of Eric’s tipsy asides and entitled attitude with a cold, sober awareness of the results of his excess.
Tim White incorporates the two generations’ disparate mindsets in his portrayal of future Birling son-in-law Gerald CrofT. White expresses Gerald’s shame and remorse when his role in the girl’s life is revealed, but he gives the character a cool, level-headed edge that allows for a speedy transition from initial self-reproach to probing analysis and damage control.
Trevor Elliott (Set) and Ron Cesario (Costumes) deserve special praise for the richness of their designs in An Inspector Calls. The Birlings’ dining room draws on elements of the historic Statehouse and appears as an organic extension of the building, and the period costumes – especially the women’s ensembles – are finely-detailed, class- and period-specific pieces.
2nd Story Theatre presents An Inspector Calls at the Bristol Statehouse - 240 High Street, Bristol, RI - through December 2, 2012. Tickets are available by phone (401) 247-4200, through e-mail boxoffice@2ndStoryTheatre.com, or by visiting the box office at 28 Market Street, Warren, RI. Regular tickets are $25; audience members under age 21 pay $20. A discussion session will be held post-performance on November 18. For further information, see the company’s website at www.2ndStoryTheatre.com.