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We made the news!

Sort of. We got reviewed at any rate. Thanks to a Friend who helped with the set for our production of “An Inspector Calls,” and went on to write a review — all on his own!

Read on for his take on the play, and this production. Then, buy your tickets!!

An Inspector Calls

If you’re feeling a bit at sea just now, wondering what the world has come
to and whether all norms of morality have been upended, J.B. Priestley’s “An
Inspector Calls,” a mystery-thriller first performed in 1945 and now playing
at Arlington Friends of the Drama Theatre, will provide some assurance that
despite all the wrongs in the world and the prevalence of denials of how
one’s own actions can bring about those wrongs, in the end what’s right is
right, and that’s all there is to it.

This might be the perfect play for a community theater group to stage. There
is crackling suspense and conflict between the characters from start to
finish, and the audience is continuously engaged, wondering how important
questions will get answered and how the conflicts between the characters
will get resolved. The cast is small enough so that in the approximately 100
minutes of running time one can get to know the characters well, yet large
enough to provide enough roles to go around. All the action takes place in
one room, so only one set need be designed and constructed. And the themes
addressed are socially important, of universal value at all stages of life,
of equal interest to young and old.

Set in the dining room of a well-to-do English family, an engagement
celebration is interrupted by the arrival of a police inspector looking into
the suicide of a young woman. At first, “An Inspector Calls” has the feel of
a classic mid-century English “cozy” mystery: there is a small group of
suspects, most of whom are related, each with a secret to hide, each having
some connection to the victim that is revealed over time; there is an
all-knowing detective, eccentric, but working diligently and effectively to
get at the truth; and there are masks to be ripped off because the decorum
of the wealthy bourgeoisie barely hides the corruption lying underneath. And
yet this whole structure is exploded in the end, including the genre itself,
transformed from mystery to morality play.

As written, the play comes off as a rather heavy-handed skewering of the
hypocrisy of the wealthy. But as directed by Mary Fitzpatrick and played by
a talented group of actors, the effect is more universal, that it’s not that
this particular class of people is more evil than others, it’s that
underneath all of us is a core of selfishness and self-righteousness that is
the source of much of the misery in the world, and yet also is the source of
some of the things we hold dear: status, wealth, and social order.

The parallels to Dickens are inescapable. Priestley ploughs the same
thematic ground, and while his characters are somewhat less rounded than
some of Dickens’, he does not cave in to sentimentality by slipping in an
unearned feel good message at the end. He is more true to the implications
of his insights.

For sure there is not much nuance in certain parts of this play. In case we
fail to get the essential points by virtue of the action, the Inspector
tells us directly what to think and feel, as does Sheila, the newly engaged
daughter of the industrial patriarch Arthur Birling and his wife Sybil,
whose reactions to the events are intended to drive home the lessons we are
to learn. And, yes, the revelations that are to come are telegraphed well
before they are disclosed. But even so, when they come, these revelations
still land with full impact. And the message is so important (a healthy
society depends on us realizing we are all in this together and must help
each other out) and the production is so attuned to making this point as
subtly as possible within the confines of the script, that one overlooks a
certain lack of artistry in the writing.

Iain Bason as the industrialist Arthur Birling hits all the right notes and
provides a bit of depth to the character lacking on the page. Fred Robbins
is solid as Inspector Goole, the voice of morality in the play. Teri Muller
has a thankless job, playing the unsympathetic Sybil Birling, but manages to
round out what would otherwise have been an entirely two-dimensional
character. And Kate Flanagan is inspired as Sheila Birling, the character
who seems to change for the better and learn the most from the events that

Here is a simple timely message, powerfully and memorably dramatized. This
is a skillfully-acted and staged production, and is well worth seeing.
Remaining show dates: 11/12 (8 pm), 11/13 (4 pm), 11/18 (8 pm), 11/19 (8
pm), 11/20 (4 pm) at Arlington Friends of the Drama Theatre, 22 Academy
Street, Arlington.

Steve Poltorzycki



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