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BWW Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS at Everyman Theatre - A Masterpiece of a Thriller

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This is my second of British plays to be reviewed in two weeks. It began with HAY FEVER by Noel Coward at the Olney Theatre Center (which has been extended to October, 2015 by popular demand). The third British play is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE at Center Stage (look for my review shortly).

What a time I am having. Run, don't walk, to catch this superb production at Everyman Theatre which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. What a way to start!

I was fortunate to see the Broadway version Directed by Stephan Daldry which won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. Daldry trimmed the play from three acts to one (here it's two acts) and featured a torrential rain storm which drenched the front of the stage.

The Everyman production owes much to two graduates of Towson's celebrated training ground for theater, the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technologies, Noah Himmelstein and Timothy R. Mackabee. Himmelstein, from Pikesville, is making his directorial debut at Everyman and after this smashing success I'm sure will be returning. He does an impressive job with a terrific ensemble of actors. His use of "stop action" is riveting. Mackabee, from the Cub Hill area of Baltimore County, returns to Everyman for his third undertaking of designing. Remember his incredible work last year for DEATHTRAP? Mackabee's work was also seen at Center Stage last season for AMADEUS. (Another Carver grad, Adam Gwon, has composed the new musical CAKE-OFF at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA starting Sept. 29.)

Mackabee's set design is just plain riveting. A dining room table is front and center with two tables for to the left and right with candles. The entire stage is framed by a red fabric covered with a plexi-glass material which reflects. The effect is amazing. One can point your attention to one character stage right but you are able to see the other actors stage left. I won't spoil the amazing effect at the end of the play. Mackabee 's designs have even been seen on Broadway, most recently THE ELEPHANT MAN with Bradley Cooper.

Playwright J. B. Priestly served in World War I and wrote the play a week after World War II concluded. He sets the play in an unnamed English city in the North Midlands in 1912. The Birling family is having a celebratory dinner to honor the engagement of their daughter Sybil (Sophie Hinderberger) to a wealthy gentleman, Gerald Croft (Jamison Foreman). Two members of the Everyman Acting Company play the father and mother - Bruce Randolph Nelson plays the patriarchal father Arthur and Deborah Hazlett is his wife Sybil. Their alcoholic son Eric is played by Josh Adams. There has to be a maid and in this case, Olivia Ercolano as Edna has only one line but one cannot take your eye off of her when she is on stage performing her duties. There is a scene where she clears the table and folds the table cloth. Watch for the reaction of everyone as she accomplishes this simple task. Everyone is wondering what is SHE thinking.

The Birlings's quiet evening at home during dinner is interrupted when Edna announces a visitor, "An Inspector calls" she says quite matter- of- factly.

In walks Chris Genebach as Inspector Goole. I recall enjoying Genebach in his role of "Jigger" in the wonderful Olney Theatre Center production of CAROUSEL. You will remember his role for a long time after you see the show, it's a powerful performance.

Goole (interesting choice of a name) holds a small black notebook and explains he is there due to the death of a young woman who has committed suicide named Eva Smith. Maybe due to my legal background I was immediately wondering what crime could have been committed if in fact Smith committed suicide?

As it turns out Smith kept a diary and it seems each member of the Birling family has had some kind of a relationship with the deceased. I won't ruin how this could have happened.

It is quite clear the playwright Priestley was using the pen to question society and the need for social change. Father Birling expresses his politics when he questions why everybody has to look after everybody else. How timely this play is. The issues of social injustice, personal and social accountability, unequal pay for women, raising the minimum wage to help people out of poverty, the problems of refugees, are agenda items on the political scene today and were also issues in 1945 England. The play was so controversial, no theater in London would produce it. Instead, it opened in Russia.

Lighting Designer Jay A. Herzog does an amazing job as does Elisheba Ittoop on Sound. David Burdick did the lovely Costumes.

Get to the theater early to enjoy the wonderful program shock full of information about the play and the era. Kudos to Associate Marketing Director Laura Weiss for writing a wonderful retrospective called "The First Five Years: 1990-1995", "The Life and Times of J.B. Priestley", "Why 1912", and "Women's Fashion in Edwardian Society". She also has written a moving salute to Naomi Greenberg-Slovin, Everyman's Resident Dramaturg who passed away last month at the age of 92.

Everyman presents "The Word of the Play" on Saturday afternoon Oct. 4, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. hosted by Marc Steiner, free to subscribers and $5 for everyone else.

The entire ensemble deserved the rousing standing ovation.

AN INSPECTOR CALLS is breaking box office records and plays until October 11, 2015. For tickets call 410-752-2208 or visit www.everymantheatre.org.

Next up at Everyman is August Wilson's FENCES which runs October 21 (a pay-what-you-can performance) to Nov. 22, 2015.

There was a pre-show talk by Kyle Prue, Director of Production. Proudly he mentioned that this was the 108th play by Everyman, there have been 3,200 performances, 2,600 actors and designers, and some 32,000 FREE tickets distributed to Baltimore City High School Students. He revealed that Everyman provides free transportation for the students and actors visit the schools both prior and after performances.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com


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