Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Offers an Episode of The Twilight Zone Wrapped in an Agatha Christie Mystery

AN INSPECTOR CALLS has been described in the Washington Post as "an episode of 'The Twilight Zone' wrapped in an Agatha Christie mystery," and after seeing the show at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Offers an Episode of The Twilight Zone Wrapped in an Agatha Christie MysteryI must say that about sums up the play for me too. Running at almost two hours without an intermission, at first it seemed to be just a bunch of talking heads yelling loudly with strong British accents - that is until the end when a Rod Serling-like phone call delivers a twist that sets the whole thing into the realm of "what just really happened?"

This National Theatre of Great Britain's landmark, modern reimaging production of J.B. Priestley's classic thriller, directed by Stephen Daldry, has won multiple Olivier and Tony Awards. The original 1945 script, set in 1912, centers on Inspector Goole and his unexpected arrival at the prosperous Birling family home, shattering their peaceful engagement dinner party by his investigations into the death Eva Smith, a local 26-year old woman. As he questions each in the group of wealthy folks to admit their possible part in the poor woman's recent suicide, their startling revelations shake the very foundations of their lives and challenge audiences to question their own consciences about civic responsibilities.

AN INSPECTOR CALLS takes place on an Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Offers an Episode of The Twilight Zone Wrapped in an Agatha Christie Mysteryiconic grand-scale set designed by Ian MacNeil, which is first revealed by three street children pulling at the curtain until it rises to reveal a foggy, rainstorm taking place in front of a raised-above-street-level Victorian mansion. While the children play in the rain around the house, an elderly woman moves forward out of the fog to throw trash into a downstage gutter, then goes back to her outdoor fire where she offers food to the children. Of course, this juxtaposition of the poor against the wealthy enjoying a warm room with delicious food and drink sets the stage for the tale's class struggle about to be revealed.

The elderly woman seemingly living on the street actually turns out to be Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Offers an Episode of The Twilight Zone Wrapped in an Agatha Christie Mysterythe Birling's housekeeper Edna (Diana Payne-Myers) who welcomes an unexpected police inspector with a hot cup of tea as he listens to the conversations taking place in the mansion's dining room above them. Edna soon clicks a rickety iron staircase into place to allow each of the party attendees to descend and be questioned by Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan) about the suicide he is investigating. And those paying attention to his last name will get a head start on the twist that takes place later on!

Those being questioned include Lady Sybil Birling (Christine Kavanagh), Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Offers an Episode of The Twilight Zone Wrapped in an Agatha Christie Mysteryher husband Arthur Birling (Jeff Harmer), their daughter Sheila Birling (Lianne Harvey) and her fiancé Gerald Croft (Andrew Macklin), and their wayward son Eric Birling (Hamish Riddle), each of whom reveal their interactions with the young woman, known to them by different names. First Arthur reveals the young woman worked for him but was let go after speaking up for a raise, after which his daughter Sheila admits she complained about how the same young woman smirked at her while shopping for a new dress.

Soon both Sheila's fiancé Gerald Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Offers an Episode of The Twilight Zone Wrapped in an Agatha Christie Mysteryand the Birling's son Eric reveal their very personal involvements with the young woman, but it is when Lady Sybil is shown the young woman's photo that she realizes the poor girl came to her charitable organization for financial assistance after discovering her pregnancy and not having any way to support herself or her child. Did she actually turn away a woman carrying her own grandchild, causing the poor woman to take her own life?

As soon as the guilty parties seem to have been revealed, the Inspector calls upon many silent townspeople to join him from out of the fog, representing those the guilty will soon have to face in court. Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Offers an Episode of The Twilight Zone Wrapped in an Agatha Christie MysteryAs Goole delivers what you will assume is the closing argument about not forgetting to help those struggling around us to make something of their lives as the many silent townspeople gather around him, you will think the story is over and lesson learned... until most of the family returns to its complacent life you will be left wondering if the entire tale really has taken place or if the Inspector was anything other than the Devil himself putting together a soon-to-be played out tale to take the uncaring wealthy family down. Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Offers an Episode of The Twilight Zone Wrapped in an Agatha Christie MysteryAnd I am still wondering... But isn't that what makes a good mystery all the more interesting?

So, I challenge you to pay attention and figure out what is real for yourself when AN INSPECTOR CALLS. Currently touring Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston, tickets run $35 to $105 at TheWallis.org/Inspector for performances daily except Mondays through February 10, 2019 in the Bram Goldsmith Theater at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is located at 9390 Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills, CA 90210. To purchase tickets and for more information, please call 310-746-4000 or visit: TheWallis.org/Inspector.

Photo credit: Mark Douet

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