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[whitespace] 'Inspecting Carol' Helping Ham: Michael Storm and Judith Miller go over the top in 'Inspecting Carol.'

Drubbing Dickens

Santa Jose State Company works over a seasonal classic in 'Inspecting Carol'

By Michael J. Vaughn

EVERY CASH COW deserves a good tipping now and then, and Ebenezer the Omnipresent gets his in Inspecting Carol, San Jose Stage Company's hilarious shish-kebabbing of Charles Dickens, the National Endowment for the Arts and desperado theater groups. Written by Daniel Sullivan in collaboration with the actors of Seattle Repertory Theatre, Carol actually addresses many genuine concerns of the modern-day actor. Its farcical premise, however, applies one of the oldest tricks in the book--taken, in fact, from the plot of Gogol's masterpiece, The Inspector General.

Fictional director Zorah Bloch (Judith Miller) is busy preparing her company's annual production of A Christmas Carol and running into lots of problems. Her Scrooge, Larry Vauxhall (Kevin Blackton), got bored the year before and decided to speak his lines entirely in Spanish; to please the NEA, she has hired the world's worst African American actor, Walter E. Parsons (Don Burrus), to play the various ghosts of Christmas; and her Tiny Tim, 12-year-old Luther Beatty (Chris McCarty), has experienced a terribly inconvenient growth spurt. These problems pale in comparison to the news from business manager Kevin Emery (Drew Anderson), who announces that the NEA has just dropped the company's $30,000 grant, citing "lack of artistic quality." The company's only chance of escaping bankruptcy is to impress the NEA inspector, due to arrive any minute.

When the troupe is visited instead by a grossly untalented actor requesting an audition (Wayne Wellacre, played by Michael Storm), Zorah and Kevin surmise that he is, in fact, the NEA inspector, working undercover, and proceed to kow-tow up a storm. They even let him rework their adaptation, implementing dozens of Larry's radical political-theater notions. ("I still think we're pulling our punches on Tiny Tim's sexuality," Larry says.)

The old mistaken-identity gimmick wears a little thin around the end of the first act, but the frosting on the Christmas pudding arrives when the troupe has no choice but to perform Wayne's adaptation. The following half hour is an absolutely delicious piece of humbuggery. The list includes, in no particular order, Jacob Marley on a leash, the Ghost of Christmas Past in large Huggies, Scrooge's tombstone as designed by Benny Hill, and Mrs. Cratchit (Dorothy Tree-Hapgood) sounding strangely like Ma Joad.

In her three core players, Domenique Lozano (the real director) has a trio of comic spitfires. Miller's genuine grand-dame charisma lends a necessary plausibility to Zorah's florid exclamations ("pluralistic pederast!") and great fiery righteousness to her rant on the NEA.

Blackton uses his Wagnerian baritone and imposing presence to hint at genuine talent somewhere beneath Larry's ample coating of B.S. and provides additional giggles by playing his Scrooge with the gesticulations of a Vegas-era Elvis. Storm, meanwhile, channels a bit of Jerry Lewis for his misbegotten thespian, especially in Wayne's manically illustrative reading of Shakespeare's "winter of our discontent" monologue. A couple of fringe benefits are Anderson, who obliterates Kevin's calm accountant demeanor with his "This is a fundraiser!" tirade; and Jessa Brie Berkner as M.J., the ultracompetent stage manager who reacts to the horrible performance with an inspired session of freaking out.

Inspecting Carol plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Dec. 2 at The Stage, 490 South First St., San Jose. Tickets are $16-$30. (408.283.7142)

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From the December 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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