note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Richard Pacheco
Second Story Theatre delivers a witty and intriguing production of J./B. Priestly’s “An Inspector Calls” at the historic Bristol Statehouse, 240 High Street, Bristol.
The play, set around the First World War time period, just before it, is family gathering and celebration gone sour. The Birling family is together to celebrate their good fortune, full of self congratulations and good cheer. Sheila is getting engaged to the equally wealthy and prominent Gerald Croft. This will be not only a family merger but a business merger. These people are incredibly wealthy, sleek sophisticated and aloof. But beneath this veneer of proper sophistication there is a darker layer of hidden secrets and that is where the mystery lies. All of this becomes clear when a mysterious police inspector arrives to put them through their paces with some devastating questions. A young woman has committed suicide in a most horrible way and the inspector believes he can find some answers here, so far away from that grisly scene.
The play is packed with relentless twists and turns and the inspector digs deeper into the dead young woman’s past and the people in the room with vigor and mercilessly dedicated to finding the truth. Oddly, the inspector seems to know certain answers before he asks the questions and his manner is not accusatory, but deeply probing.. The result is a witty and delightful mystery with jabs of comedy throughout.
Vince Petronio is a delight as Inspector Goole. He is poised and astute in his relentless and cagey pursuit of the dark secrets he knows lies here. Mr. Petronio is the perfect calm, cool and collected inspector who knows what he wants and how to best get it.
Tom Roberts is engaging as Arthur Birling, the family patriarch, a man set in his ways and superlative businessman with an every ready eye to the bottom line. Mr. Roberts is determined to protect his family and his business from outside assaults and ready to use any means he has to defend them and prevent scandal at all costs. Mr. Roberts is imposing in the role.
Laura Sorensen is incisive as Sheila Birling, a young woman brought up in sheer luxury and disdain for those others, less privileged than her, who gets to look into her life with astonishing revelations. Ms. Sorensen is highly convincing in her balance between elegance and sincerity.
Tim White is poised and intelligent as Sheila’s fiancé, Gerald Croft. He is a man beset by personal challenges and dark doubts about a bright future. It is a strong, nuanced performance.
Jeff Church is engaging as the dissolute and hard drinking brother, Eric Birling. Mr. Church is outstanding as the man who while he takes advantage of his advantages his darker thoughts about them at the same time.
Joan Batting is incisive as the family matriarch, Sybil, who knows all too well her status in life and what it takes to protect it. She is aloof and self assured, above it all. She knows she is right, and she is right, facts be dammed.
Varlie Westage rounds out the cast as the maid, Edna.
It is a well honed performance, with many laughs along the way. There are provocative questions here, which resonate to current day. The cast is right on target with their poise and character twists and turns marked by a sincerity that is endearing and at times surprising or off-putting. It is engaging fun and presented with no intermission, running time one hour and fifteen minutes.
Director Ed Shea keeps a fine balance between the wit and mystery in the play. It is vivid and impressive.
Trevor Elliot’s set is sheer delight, elegant and simple at the same time. Ron Cesario’s costume designs are impeccable, sophisticated and graceful, faithful to the time period.
It will be presented again at the historic Bristol Statehouse, 240 High Street, Bristol, RI until Dec. 2. Box office 401-247-4200. www.2ndstorytheatre.com Tickets $25, Performances Wed, thru Sun. at 8 pm, except for Sun. which are at 3 pm and 7 pm on different Sundays.