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Scrooge reviewer won’t sing praise of ‘Carol’

Eric Anson and Jodi Henderson are among the 12 cast members in Live Theatre Workshop's production of "Inspecting Carol."

Eric Anson and Jodi Henderson are among the 12 cast members in Live Theatre Workshop's production of "Inspecting Carol."

Comedy can be a fickle mistress. Sometimes the laughter pours out, other times the silence after a punch line or pratfall is deadly.

For the performers it’s even worse. Timing is everything, of course. But when several actors are onstage together, one person can send the whole scene careening into chaos. That person’s erratic line bumps into the next person, whose moment gets rushed, lurching into the next person after that – and pretty soon the whole stage is a train wreck of good intentions.

Arms and legs stick out in awkward positions, strange noises escape at odd times. Bodies pile up. And in the back of the audience a bunch of people are laughing like crazy.

But is it funny? Is it comedy? Or is it just people laughing?

Live Theatre Workshop has cooked up its production of a backstage comedy, “Inspecting Carol,” directed by Leslie J. Miller, that feels like a four-lane pile-up. Actors are flying in all directions, punch lines get flattened out and zippy language turns into noise.

Yet, at the performance I attended people were laughing as they left the theater convinced it was a really funny show.

Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

“Inspecting Carol” is credited to Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. That awkward title refers to Charles Dickens’ holiday evergreen “A Christmas Carol.”

Combining elements of the insider stage comedy “Noises Off” and the movie satirizing community theater, “Waiting For Guffman,” this comedy is less than either one.

Instead of cleverness we get slapstick. Instead of insight we get more slapstick. Miller is fully committed to the silliness. If the play calls for someone to fall, she’ll have the person fall, roll around and knock over some furniture. All the acting is performed in caricature, giving everything a cartoonish over-the-top quality that gets its laughs at the expense of showing any humanity. These are not warmhearted eccentrics trying their best to overcome a difficult situation. They are talented actors trying to imitate life inside a blender full of fruitcake.

A cast of 12 complicates the confusion with its size. There isn’t a main personality or two traveling an emotional arc to some satisfactory resolution. The show itself doesn’t have much of an arc.

There is the usual motley collection of misfits hoping to find some relief from their own disappointing lives by taking part in an annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Missie Scheffman plays the statuesque beauty Zorah Bloch, determined to run her own little theater company since she didn’t get to become a Hollywood movie star. You just know she’ll be having a personality meltdown before everyone turns out the stage lights and goes home for the night.

Jodie Rankin gets her laughs as the bored and cynical stage manager M.J. McMann. She performs the role of ringmaster in this circus of fools, ready to duck for cover whenever those highly combustible egos start bouncing off each other.

There’s not much of Scrooge’s familiar journey in “Inspecting Carol,” either. Along with a part of the old gentleman’s happy conversion, we get glimpses of Jacob Morley, Tiny Tim, the Christmas ghosts in frightful costumes and Bob Cratchit hoping he won’t get fired. But mostly we get to watch people spin out of control, crash and burn.



What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “Inspecting Carol” by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through April 19

Where: Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.

Price: $14-$17

Info: 327-4242, www.livetheatreworkshop.org

Grade: C

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