AN INSPECTOR CALLS by Carol Kaufman Segal
I recently saw two episodes from The Twilight Zone at Theatre 40 (see review of Rod Serling’s Stories From The Zone, dated January 28, 2019). J.B. Priestley’s classic play, An Inspector Calls has been described by The Washington Post as “an episode of The Twilight Zone wrapped in an Agatha Christie mystery”. Stephen Daltry directs the National Theatre of Great Britain’s production playing at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
Yes, one might see that connection. However, this production, which runs for one hour and forty-five minutes without an intermission, is much more complex. It begins with three children pulling on the curtain until it opens revealing an unusual set designed by Ian MacNeil. A Victorian mansion, raised above the ground is seen amidst a heavy fog and rain. The mansion is home to the very wealthy Birling Family. As the children are playing, an elderly woman (DianaPayne-Myers) offers food to them. Meanwhile, the Birlings are enjoying a feast as they celebrate the engagement of their daughter Sheila (Lianne Harvey) to Gerald Croft (Jeff Hammer).
The good woman, who offered the children food, happened to be the Birling’s housekeeper Edna. You will see her throughout the play doing her job fastidiously without ever speaking or being acknowledged in any way. She welcomes a gentleman who arrives at the mansion and announces himself as Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan) who is investigating a suicide and wishes to interrogate each of the people attending the engagement party. Those include Sheila and Gerald as well as Sybil (Christine Kavanaugh) and Arthur Birling (Andrew Macklin), Sheila’s parents, and Eric Birling (Hamish Riddle), her brother.
When questioned by the Inspector, all of them admit to having had a personal interaction with the same woman. Each admits that they treated her with little regard, as a person beneath their social level. Perhaps any one of them could have been the reason for her committing suicide. After ending his inquisition, the Inspector departs, leaving them all with guilty consciences – but only for the moment. Suddenly they question who really sent the Inspector to their home, and upon second thought, they return to the mansion as though none of it ever happened. Did it? You decide. There is a message in Priestley’s play, that is, to show the way the wealthy treat those less fortunate than they, without compassion or a conscience.
An Inspector Calls is playing Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM and 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM and 7 PM, through Feb. 10th, at the Bram Goldsmith Theater in the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. Tickets are available online at TheWallis.org/Inspector, or by calling (310) 746-4000.