‘Inspecting Carol’ Backstage Chaos

Sonoma Arts Live - Inspecting Carol

Zorah Bloch (Melissa Claire) discovers the funding crisis. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Review of Inspecting Carol
Written by Daniel J. Sullivan
and the Seattle Repertory Theater

Directed by Carol Jordan
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma
Tickets: $22-37

RUN: November 29 – December 10, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(November 29, 2017)

Leave your sensibilities at the door for this politically incorrect comedy filled with festive shenanigans. Backstage during final rehearsals for an annual production of A Christmas Carol, the company discovers that their coffers are empty and the National Endowment for the Arts grant has failed to come through. Pinning their hopes on an inspector attending to consider reinstating the grant, they mistakenly believe an amateur actor is in fact the representative in disguise.

This error causes a waterfall of questionable choices in the tradition of Noises Off and The Inspector General, culminating with the most dreadful production of A Christmas Carol I have ever seen—dreadfully funny that is. Scenery topples, the Ghost forgets his lines, and the mayhem reaches a point where stage director M. J. (Alexis Evon) stumbles off, doubled over with hysterical laughter.

Inspecting Carol is not a heartwarming “Hallmark Channel” holiday play; it is a crude, boisterous parody of the catastrophes that can happen outside an audience’s view, with exaggerated characters ruthlessly mocking theater traditions. The acting warmup scene was particularly well done, with newcomer Walter astounded at the other cast members smelling and squeezing imaginary lemons, passing them around through the air, led by Nellie Cravens as Dorothy Tree Hapgood.

Sonoma Arts Live - Inspecting Carol

Wayne Wellacre (Nicolas Christenson) interprets Richard III in a unique fashion. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Director Carl Jordan has gathered a talented group of local actors, and brings out their strengths. Wayne Wellacre (Nicolas Christenson) auditions for the company with a creative, highly animated opening to Richard III, dramatically whacking his shoulders for “our bruised arms hung up for monuments.” Walter E. Parsons (Dorian Lockett) is aghast at the lack of organization and haphazard rehearsal style. Luther Beatty (Ty Schoeningh) is a Tiny Tim who is too old for the part, making up for it with pure spunk, ironically the most professional member of the fictional company.

Their director, Zorah Bloch (Melissa Claire) will go to any length to secure the grant, with amusing results, which distracts her from the wildly inappropriate scene edits by Larry Vauxhall (Larry Williams) who is taking out his personal issues on her script. His rewritten version of the Cratchit family Christmas turns into a rant on the lack of funding for womens’ healthcare, and the Ghost of Christmas Past is quite alarming, but not in the spectral sense.

Sonoma Arts Live - Inspecting Carol

Larry Vauxhall (Larry Williams) rehearses as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Inspecting Carol has the feel of a bawdy Shakespearean comedy and gives the impression of a barely contained train wreck, which is a more accurate depiction of the holiday season than a perfectly trimmed tree and polished production of A Christmas Carol. It is not for everyone, but if you want a break from sentimental plays for a silly, disastrous romp, Sonoma Arts Live is the place to be.

Family Fun Under the Sea with ‘The Little Mermaid’

SRJC Theatre Arts - The Little Mermaid

Ariel (Ellie Condello) longs to be where the people are. Photo by Tom Chown.

Review of Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Book by Doug Wright
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Directed by John Shillington
Music Direction by Janis Dunson Wilson
Choreography by Alyce Finwall

For tickets / schedule :
Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Maria Carrillo High School Theatre
Tickets: $12-22

RUN: November 17 – December 3, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(November 18, 2017)


This charming musical is oriented for children, with interactive elements such as cue cards for “boo” when the sea witch appears, brightly costumed characters dancing through the audience, and cheerful dialogue aimed directly at the audience. Its flashy colors, sparkling crowns, and animated projections keep the little ones entertained during their undersea adventure.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid is loosely inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story, revised to include the relationship between Ariel and her father, King Triton, as the reason for her desperate plea to Ursula for legs to visit the world above. It adds a happily ever after ending, where she and the prince sail off into the sunset.

SRJC Theatre Arts - The Little Mermaid

Sebastian (Jordan Diomandé) tries to convince Ariel (Ellie Condello) to stay in her world. Photo by Tom Chown.

Ellie Condello’s Ariel is wistfully enthusiastic with a spectacular voice; I can understand why the sea witch covets it. Her gestures and timid dancing when reaching shore, unable to speak, read well throughout the large auditorium. Cruel and power-hungry Ursula (Sandy Brown) strutted through “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with such gusto that I heard snatches of it being hummed during intermission. Her hoopskirt gown with waving tentacles was created by Maryanne Scozzari, whose glittering costume designs were a spectacle to behold.

The vocal quality dropped with Prince Eric (Armand Beikzadeh) and King Tritan (Vince Bertsch). Their characterizations when not singing showed attention to detail and emotional investment, which balanced the performances overall.

Jordan Diomandé’s Sebastian is a comedic treat during the dinner sequence, scuttling under tables and dashing away from the chef. “Under the Sea” is a toe-tapper, with his melodic lead and the energetic orchestra conducted by Janis Dunson Wilson. Grace Reid (Flotsam) and Roberto Pérez Kempton (Jetsam) embody the eels with undulating hissing and expressive physicality.

The Little Mermaid will delight young children, immersing them in a vibrant undersea universe of dancing fish, foam, and mermaids. Feel the soaring yearning of Ariel’s “Part of Your World” and smile at the romantic shenanigans in “Kiss the Girl” that are timeless classics from Disney’s 1989 film, brought to life on stage.

‘Bakersfield Mist’ Tenacious Struggle for Meaning

Review of Bakersfield Mist
By Stephen Sachs
Directed by Argo Thompson and Kimberly Kalember

For tickets & schedule:
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Left Edge Theatre
Tickets: $25 General Admission

RUN: November 17 – December 2, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(November 17, 2017)

Bakersfield Mist - Left Edge Theatre

Maude (Sandra Ish) attempts to convince Lionel (Mike Pavone) that her painting is a genuine Jackson Pollock.

Sagebrush Trailer Park is cluttered with gaudy chachkies, milk carton furniture, frumpy decorative plates, and a Bigfoot Crossing sign courtesy of set designer Argo Thompson. It is the last place that a dramatic “Black and White” Jackson Pollock painting would be on display, yet that is what resident Maude Gutman claims to possess. Visiting art expert with impressive credentials, Lionel Percy, is rigidly pompous, unwilling to consider the possibility that a whisky swilling low-brow could possibly have a real Pollock next to her dreadfully vulgar clown painting.

A battle of wills commences over its authenticity, shifting between clever banter, effective parody of the stuffy pretension art enthusiasts can fall into, and darker glimpses into the reasons Maude is so set on her painting being genuine. In this tight single act play, the pace is exhilarating, building to a fever pitch as tensions rise. It finds a balance between amused chuckles and dramatic depth as Maude’s story unfolds.

Playwright Stephen Sachs is a master at crafting individual characters; Maude’s casual f-bombs and openhearted approach to conversation is contrasted with Lionel’s intellectual vocabulary of carefully chosen words and approach to social interactions.

Bakersfield Mist - Left Edge Theatre

Lionel (Mike Pavone) explains to Maude (Sandra Ish) that her painting is a fake.

Sandra Ish as Maude Gutman is a force to be reckoned with; she is absolute in her belief that the painting is real, and brings comfortable honesty to the role—it feels like Maude is a real person, not a character in a play. Despite the fact an expert is giving compelling reasons why the painting could not possibly be a Pollock, her unyielding faith is contagious, and had me wondering if maybe it was.

Mike Pavone’s Lionel Percy is easy to be amused by in early scenes, with his fussing over being a “fake buster” and unwillingness to shake Maude’s hand with more than his pinkie finger. He shines in the description of Pollock’s creative process, as unbridled enthusiasm breaks through the crust of academia to reveal an animated mania for the artist, leaving Maude and the audience staring with amazement at his transformation.

Bakersfield Mist is a dark comedy of prejudice, artistic passion, and the importance of believing in something, even if it is a piece of canvas covered in dripped paint. The dynamic duo of Ish and Pavone are mesmerizing; it is well worth the journey to Luther Burbank Center.

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