Saturday, July 19, 2014

An Inspector Calls . . . And Discovers A Room Full Of Immensely Talented Young Actors - Boston Teen Acting Troupe Presents J. P. Priestley's "An Inspector Calls"

If you hurry, you will still have time to catch the final performance of the Teen Premiere of J.P. Priestley's classic mystery play, "An Inspector Calls."  There is a performance this evening at 8:00 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box Theatre.

Since their founding in 2011, Boston Teen Acting Troupe has amassed a very solid reputation for providing teen actors and creatives who are serious about theater opportunities to hone their skills in front of live audiences.  This production has all of the earmarks of a solid professional production.  In less capable hands, this Edwardian era mystery could come off as dated and dusty.  In the capable hands of Director Catherine Spino, this fine acting troupe handle this period piece in very nuanced ways that make the play lively and its themes timely.

The set is elegant and precise, as designed by Molly Porter.  Lighting by Alex Fetchko, Costumes, Hair and Make-Up by Neil Fortin, Sound Design by Jack Serio and Dialect Coaching by Danny Bryck all add to the strong impression that we have been ushered into the very proper dining salon of a very proper aristocratic British family as they as finishing their meal with a toast to their daughters upcoming very proper nuptials.  In the midst of the toasts and celebration, a stranger calls who identifies himself as a Police Inspector.  Complications ensue!

The cast that Ms. Spino has assembled is universally excellent.  In almost every case, the audience soon forgets the actor's chronological age, and settles into seeing each cast member as the age of the character they are portraying in the play.  A bit of gray hair helps in the case of Jack Serio, as pater familias Arthus Birling, but even more impressive are his physical movements, gestures, verbal tics and idiosyncrasies that are characteristic of a man of the world who has been around the block a few times and sees himself as a force to be reckoned with and not to be trifled with.

The rest of the cast shines, as well.

  • Garrett Sager as Gerald Croft
  • Barbara Woodall as Sheila Birling
  • Olivia Hayhurst as Sybil Birling
  • Jordan Underwood as Edna
  • Sam Vita as Eric Birling
  • Brendan Caulfield as Inspector Goole.
Inspector Goole is aptly named, for he ghoulishly haunts the Birling home and family with his questions and insinuations of their potential involvement in the life of a young woman who has committed suicide.  As the Inspector's questions probe ever deeper, individual ghosts emerge and family skeletons come popping out of the proper lavender-scented closet into which they have been stuffed by the various members of the family. Priestley is clever not only in the dialogue he has written and the action he set in motion.  He also manages to allude to many social issues of the day - both the time of the setting of the play (1912) and the time when he wrote the play (1945).

The action is set on the evening of April 15, 1912.  It is the same date as the sinking of the Titanic.  Early in the play, mention is made of an unsinkable ship.  This proper family at the outset seems water tight and unsinkable, but as the Inspector lingers, icebergs appear and holes are ripped in the haughty hulls of the members of the Birling family.  (FYI - April 15, 1912 is also the day that Fenway Park opened for business!)

Along the way, Priestley deals with the rising tension between laborers and industrialists, the role of women in a changing society, denial of the inevitability of war, class warfare of several stripes, and the hypocrisy of keeping up appearances.

Jack Serio as Arthur Birling,
Sam Vita as Eric Birling,
Barbara Woodall as Sheila Birling
and Olivia Hayhurst as Sybil Birling
 (Source:Julia Budde Photography)
This production is a huge success at every level, and adds another feather to the cap of the Boston Teen Acting Troupe.



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