Christine Kavanagh, Jeff Harmer, Lianne Harvey in An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley, P.W. Productions on tour 2018/19 Directed by Stephen Daldry Designed by Ian MacNeil Lighting by Rick Fisher Associate Director Julian Webber Photo by Mark Douet

By Sarah A. Spitz

AN OLD PLAY, A NEW CIRCUS

Photo LA opens tonight at the Barker Hangar; I’ll be attending and will review for you next week. It’s on through Sunday, so grab a ticket. Get the details here: https://www.photola.com/

AN INSPECTOR CALLS

For a British thriller written in 1945 about a 1912 incident, “An Inspector Calls” moves briskly (less than 2 hours) through its three uninterrupted acts. It’s onstage at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The National Theatre of Great Britain production is directed by Stephen Daldry (The Crown; Billy Elliot).

It’s a little bit like Twilight Zone with its uniquely twisted ending (take your clue from the Inspector’s name — Goole). But it still has relevance today in the arguments it makes about an era of rampant and rapacious wealth-building at the cost of the rest of humanity.

The dining room where the Birling family has gathered to celebrate the engagement of their daughter Sheila (Lianne Harvey) to Gerald Croft (Andres Macklin) is filled with evidence of the rich and privileged lives they lead. To emphasize the gap between rich and poor, the house sits well above the stage, while the foreground looks something like a wasteland. That’s where the Inspector and a group of unidentified children and other characters emerge out of the fog.

The party is interrupted by the daunting and fearless Scotsman, Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan), who sets out to discover why a beautiful young woman has committed suicide just a few hours earlier. The woman worked for Arthur Birling (Jeff Harmer), a captain of industry, but her life intersected with all of the characters in the play.

Before the night is over, everyone will be exposed either for their hypocrisy, their lack of compassion or both. One by one, secrets are revealed, relationships are changed and the house itself will be destroyed.

Unimpressed by Mr. Birling’s name dropping and recitation of his civic titles, Goole simply ignores his attempts to intimidate him and pushes his way into their lives, one by one, making them admit their relationship to the dead young woman.

Arthur fired her because she tried to stand up for her rights, asking for a small raise and threatening to create a strike. Daughter Sheila insisted that she be fired from a dress shop, a job that she’d finally landed after Mr. Birling cast her out of his factory, for a misperceived insult. Fiancée Gerald discovers her in a place known as a last resort for prostitutes, and decided to keep her — in his eyes, helping to save her. And once Gerald dumped her, drunken son Eric (Hamish Riddle) took up with her and got her pregnant.

Even Sybil Birling, the mother (Christine Kavanagh) rejects the girl’s pleas for help — she’s the head of a committee with the power to decide whether to help women who’ve taken a wrong turn. That may have been the last straw.

A socialist, J.B. Priestly wrote this play to try to promote a change in English society that he believed was far too tilted toward the rich and unsympathetic to the poor.

An Inspector Calls will be onstage through February 10. Find out more at https://TheWallis.org/Inspector.

LINK LINK CIRCUS

I’ve always adored Isabella Rossellini. But her Link Link Circus at the Broad Stage (which concluded its three-performance run last Sunday) struck me as an amateurish production that seemed more like a junior high school show than that of a well-seasoned professional.

Cute and endearing are nice enough traits in children and pets — and there was a very cute and endearing pet onstage (her dog Pan) — but the performance Rossellini gave of her own material on opening night was marked by stumbles.  She flubbed a few lines, even though she was partially reading from texts, and the audio quality left a lot to be desired, given her quiet voice, deep vocal register and with her accent.

Link Link Circus intends to represent the links between humans and animals, presaged by Rossellini’s relationship with a favorite dog as a child that made her certain that animals can think and feel. It was such a strong sense that, although postponed by decades as a successful model and actress, she now lives on an organic farm, with chickens and other animals (her book “My Chickens and I” will be published in the spring), and she’s getting a master’s degree in animal behavior. I applaud both of these efforts.

But the production values of this “smallest circus on earth” were truly underwhelming. The videos, cartoonish in nature, were somewhat exemplary of points being presented but certainly not deeply edifying. She dressed in what she described as beekeeper’s clothes, but that’s not what the beekeepers I know wear. Standing behind cardboard statues of philosophers with cutout heads and popping hers into the cutouts to espouse their thoughts was not the most scintillating way to present their ideas on the subject.

Standing outside the theatre after the show, one audience member said to another, “That was even hokier than I thought it would be.” Which just about sums up my experience.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *