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LA Theater Review

Inspecting Carol

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Ah, the fictitious Soap Box Playhouse is remounting its annual production of Dickens' holiday tale. Along comes a would-be performer whom everyone mistakes as a National Endowment for the Arts financial grant inspector, and farcical hilarity ensues. Well, that's what appears in the script. It's evident that playwright Daniel Sullivan's fabricated cast is supposed to comedically come off somewhere between mediocre and awful. Was what I witnessed the result of a raggedly inconsistent cast trying to depict amateurs or are they such remarkable thespians that they've blurred the line between art and life? One hopes for the latter, but my money's on the former.

From the moment Maria Olsen enters as the relentlessly bitchy stage manager, we're in for a long night. A predictable lot of stock characters follows close behind. Nance Crawford plays harried director Zorah Block; Donna Cook plays Dorothy Tree-Hapgood, a snooty British transplant who doubles as the show's dialect coach; Rick Watson plays Kevin Emery, the worrywart company manager; Kevin Olsen plays Phil Hewlit, a hypochondriac second banana; and the list goes on. Only Roscoe Gaines as wannabe actor Wayne Wellacre and Bob Van Dusen as Larry Vauxhall, the Soap Box's Scrooge, offer comic glimpses of what might have been. Gaines' second act Richard III take on Tiny Tim and Van Dusen's attempts to forge on against all odds once the real inspector appears elicit the only genuine laughs of the evening.

Real-life director Jon Berry further complicates by composing sightline-blocking stage pictures. Particularly glaring is the NEA official seated at the stage's lip, thereby obscuring the view of anyone in the center of the first two rows. The production stakes its claim to community theatre status with poorly executed sound segues and scenic transitions.

Presented by and at the West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. (Dark Nov. 24-25.) Nov. 18-Dec. 11. (818) 884-1907.

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