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Center Stage: Florida Rep’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ is timely classic thriller

By Staff | Dec 17, 2019

Marsha Wagner

Artistic Director Greg Logenhagen has chosen wisely and well to continue the Florida Repertory Theatre’s 2019-2020 season with a timely classic thriller, a cautionary play; the 1945 morality play by J.B. Priestly, “An Inspector Calls.” The play is a nonstop bolt of nightmarish hallucination, with a razor-sharp political edge, that kept the opening night audience at the edge of their seats.

It is set in 1912 and takes place at an English manor house where a wealthy British family is holding a festive dinner party. Suddenly the merriments are interrupted by the mysterious arrival of Police Inspector Goole (pronounced “ghoul” and beautifully acted accordingly by V. Craig Heidenreich).

The villains of this tightly told tale are mostly members of the Birling family, a self-centered group residing, owning and running a factory in the industrial city of Brumley in the North Midlands of England. Inspector Goole is investigating the horrific suicide of a poor, down and out, local woman who had once worked for, knew and interacted with all the Birling family.

As the inspector asks insinuating questions of all the smug complacent socializers, it becomes clear that each of them bears guilt, in some way, for the destruction of this poor hapless woman. They all have variously exploited her – one way or another – either for cheap labor, cheap sex or some other kind of worse debasement. The family’s entanglement in this woman’s life and horrific death shakes the foundations of their self-aggrandizing comfortable lives.

What makes Priestley’s play so relevant is his timeless admonishment about social responsibility in a world driven by greed for power and capital. What a chilling message for this holiday season of “peace on earth, good will to men” (and women too, I might add). As a matter of fact, we might also include harmony and respect to people of every race, color, ethnicity and religion.

Director Michael Marotta has done a masterful job in staging and directing this one. And I must also add a big thank you for not asking these fine American actors to put on phony British accents. Good clear American diction works just fine.

The all-star cast of Florida Rep Ensemble players, featuring Kate Hampton, William McNulty, Heidenreich and Brendon Powers, are all at the very pinnacle of their acting skills doing this powerful Priestley play. A round of well-deserved praise must also go to New York actors Cole Francum and Ellyn Heald, both of whom are making auspicious Florida Rep debuts. Well deserved kudos must also go to Bailey Tyler, a Florida Rep intern and a recent graduate of the South Carolina School of the Arts, making her main stage debut.

The current production of “An Inspector Calls” is a gripping powerful play and not to be missed; but in this instance, time is of the essence since the production only plays till Dec. 22. Tickets are available online at www.FloridaRep.org or by phoning the box office at 239-332-4488. Do it now! When you call, remind ’em Marsha sent you.