An Inspector Calls
Elegant murder mystery with a surreal wrinkle
|Remy Bumppo Theatre Company presents|
|An Inspector Calls|
Review by Keith Glab
The year is 1912, and the Birlings of suburban London celebrate the engagement of their daughter Sheila (Isabel Ellison) to a seemingly upstanding young gentleman named Gerald Croft (Greg Matthew Anderson). This celebration turns to a night of revelation and intrigue when ‘an inspector calls.’
Inspector Goole (Nick Sandys) informs the upper-class Birlings of a young woman who has committed suicide by drinking detergent earlier in the day. This woman’s name is purportedly unknown to everyone present in the dining room, but Goole methodically uncovers a history between her and the Birlings. The inspector has a way of getting people to talk candidly, and we soon learn that each of the five people present may have contributed to Smith’s act of suicide.
By intermission, the audience is confident that they have pieced together most of the events and have just witnessed a classic murder mystery. Then J.B. Priestley adds a clever wrinkle to the second act that leaves both the audience and the Birlings questioning everything. Remy Bumppo artistic director Sandys’ understated performance of the confident Inspector Goole helps set the stage for this interesting turn.
The rest of the ensemble mostly matches Sandys’ subtle energy despite portraying big characters that experience a torrent of emotion. Standouts include Anderson as the dodgy, unflappable Croft and Lia Mortensen as the regal lady of the house who remains in control even as her happy family crumbles under Goole’s interrogation.
The story and cast are enhanced by Alan Donahue’s elegant set that works in conjunction with Michael Rourke’s lighting design to provide an interesting effect whenever one of Eva Smith’s alleged antagonists gets coerced into a revealing reverie. The entire production is well-staged by David Darlow, who clearly understands pacing, spacing, and playing angles.
On the evening I attended, Roderick Peeples’ fake mustache began to fall off during the second act. Peeples was able to subtly pocket the offending hairpiece and the rest of the cast kept on as though nothing had happened. It was a terrific job by the ensemble in smoothing over an issue that could have derailed a serious moment in the narrative.
The majority of An Inspector Calls works extremely well. There are a handful of preachy political moments that don’t work for a modern audience quite as well as the Director’s Note insists, and the unexpectedly surreal conclusion might frustrate as many theatergoers as it intrigues. It is the relationships between the six principal characters that Darlow and his cast bring out so well that carries the piece, making it a most welcome alternative to the usual holiday show fare running across Chicago at present.
An Inspector Calls continues through January 12th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $15-$53, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through Tix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at RemyBumppo.org. (Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Johnny Knight
Greg Matthew Anderson (Gerald Croft), Nick Sandys (Inspector Goole), Lia Mortensen (Sybil Birling), Roderick Peeples (Arthur Birling), Isabel Ellison (Shelia Birling), Luke Daigle (Eric Birling), Maggie McCally (Edna)
behind the scenes
David Darlow (director), Stephanie Hurovitz (stage manager), Alan Donahue (set design), Emily Waecker (costumes), Michael Rourke (lighting), Josh Horvath (sound design), Jesse Gaffney (props), Stage Channel (videography), Johnny Knight (photos)