Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: FEBRUARY 19, 2010
Picture this. You’re at home with your family for an intimate celebration. Your daughter has just become engaged. She’s giddy and radiant. Your son has had a bit too much to drink. The young fiancé is a catch, already a wealthy businessman. Everything is going swimmingly – and then the doorbell rings.
In shuffles an investigator who tells you he’s just come from the morgue, where a poor young girl was lying on the slab, after having taken her own life. Insistently and systematically, he questions each and every member of the family, peeling away layers of secrecy and superciliousness, and implicating everyone – directly or indirectly – in the girl’s demise.
It’s not a matter of Whodunit, but who contributed to it. Something of a lesson in collective guilt and social responsibility. Which brings to mind the dire admonition of the ghost of Jacob Marley to his former partner, Ebenezer Scrooge: “Mankind is your business!”
A psychological thriller written by J. B. Priestley in 1945, “An Inspector Calls” is set in a fictitious Yorkshire , England , industrial town just before the first World War. Despite the work’s immense and long-lasting popularity, the playwright-journalist was accused of wrapping his morality tale in socialist trappings (or perhaps more aptly, liberal humanist garb), including heinous considerations like class inequity, hypocrisy, social conscience and community responsibility. The message may come through as a tad didactic, but it’s no less relevant than it was 65 years ago. Fashions may have changed in the interim, but not human nature.
For a long time, the play had fallen out of favor. But then, in 1993, it was re-conceived in London and then New York , and became a theatrical darling on both sides of the pond, winning 20 prestigious awards.
Lamb’s Players Theatre was ahead of that curve, airing out the old warhorse in 1989. And now, they feel the time is ripe for a revisit. They’ve made the play leaner and sleeker, trimmed down from 3 acts to one relentless, intermissionless, nail-biting interrogation. Of course, there’s a twist at the end, which leaves audiences a bit dazed and a little puzzled. In some ways, you have to work it all out for yourself. The enigmatic aspect can be unnerving, even a little annoying. But the play still packs its wallop, and its message never goes out of style, especially in this era of unchecked greed and materialism, when the great divide between rich and poor seems wider than ever.
The Lamb’s production is very attractive, the performances first-rate. The lovely, detailed drawing room set has one peculiar feature: the floor is packed soil. Metaphorical, you might say, for digging up the dirt on every arrogant, condescending character. You’re guaranteed to be gobsmacked at the end.
“An Inspector Calls” continues through March 21 at Lamb’s Players Theatre.
©2010 PAT LAUNER