I won’t use the tired cliché, “If you see only one play this year…,” because there are so many good plays being performed this year by 2nd Story, Gamm, Trinity and others. But I will urge you to get on over to the courtroom of the Bristol Statehouse and see British playwright JB Preistley’s Tony Award winning, “An Inspector Calls.”
Director Ed Shea has assembled the perfect cast to bring life and energy to this cleverly constructed mystery…and he warns critics not to reveal the many surprises in the hour and 15-minute, one-act play. For that short time period you will be treated to more surprises and revelations than most three-act productions.
“An Inspector Calls” is a morality play of the first order. The play begins with members of the 1% elite Birling family gathered in their dining room to celebrate the engagement of young Sheila (Laura Sorensen) to Gerald Croft (Tim White) and the hopes of patriarch Arthur Birling (Tom Roberts) to merge the two wealthy industrialist families and businesses.
There’s a knock on the door. Enter Inspector Goole (Vince Petronio), who brings word of the suicide of a young lady. “Not our concern,” says Arthur, who has just finished lecturing the family on the importance of taking care of your own and not having to look out for others.
Ah, but Goole’s relentless inquiry uncovers deep, dark secrets that involves all five of them in the complicity of the young girl’s death. The inquiry, which is so cleverly structured, causes everyone to reveal his or her involvement, much to the surprise of the others.
Arthur and his wife (Joan Batting) are quick to deny any responsibility, while their daughter (Sorensen) becomes the conscience of the family and their wayward son (Jeff Church) fights the establishment.
The inquiry is brilliantly written, and Petronio is at the top of his game in fleshing out each person’s involvement. I found myself engrossed in every word, seeing a connection between the conversations and the allegorical divide between rich and poor. While taking place in 1912 and written in 1945, the play has as much relevance today as it did back then.
And just when you think the inspector has done his job and leaves, you are treated to a scene of rationalization, and then in the end one big time revelation that will take your breath away.
Director Shea uses the space in the courthouse to his advantage. Trevor Elliott’s set aptly makes the dining room the seat of judgment, while Ron Cesario’s costumes are true to the period. There is much humor in the play, most of it sardonic. Every word and every phrase is allegorical but never vague. The audience will get it, even if the Birlings don’t. This is a play, and a performance, not to be missed.
For reservations call 247-4200. “An Inspector Calls” runs through Dec. 2. When word gets out as to the quality of the play and the players, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was held over.