AN INSPECTOR CALLS showing at The Waterfront Playhouse
Directed by Patrick New
Review by Emily Berg
We all have our own litmus test of what makes a piece of art or entertainment “good”. For me it’s the intensity of which I want to discuss it with someone else. If I immediately want to find others to compare notes with after finishing a movie or book I know that it’s passed the test.
An Inspector Calls playing now at the Waterfront Playhouse completely meets this mark. It has the added benefit of being well acted and visually enchanting.
The 90 min play takes place in real time, over the course of a single evening in the upscale English home of the Birling family in the earlier 1900s. The family has finished dinner and is celebrating the engagement of their daughter with her new fiancé when there is a visit from Inspector Goole. A girl has died by suicide. Slowly and meticulously Inspector Goole’s question reveal a connection between the victim and each of the present members of the house.
The set is gorgeous. It gives all the sentiment needed for a drawing room drama. The costuming also aids in setting the mood, but of course the actors are what brings the scene alive. I found the Birling family and soon to be son-in-law to be mostly not relatable. I doubt I’d be unique in that viewpoint. The roles, put in the wrong hands, might be unbearable to watch. However this cast shared the vulnerability of their characters making each completely enthralling.
Inspector Goole, played by visiting actor Dan Waller, is the antagonist, not letting the family fail to see the roll they’ve played in the victim’s demise. Waller is a controlled presence on stage but this makes the inspector’s burst of emotion all the more commanding over the pace of the play.
The suspense is strong. It’s a mystery how all of the pieces will fit together and as you start to think you’ve cracked it a twist sends it everything in another direction. In many ways the play is a classic whodunit. However, as it’s clear that the young woman died at her own hand we are freed up to explore the roll each family member played and what responsibility they do or do not bear.
This show is full of debatable topics. The character’s liability to the young woman is just one of the points I left the Waterfront Playhouse wanting to delve into. If dinner after the show is too late for you I strongly recommend planning to have a night cap with your theater partners to discuss.
Of course the time period does shape some of the various points of view. As an example there is considerable time given to what sort of discussion is acceptable in front of women. Yet the majority of the issues are still relevant; generational disputes, labor rights, class discrimination, and the always present question of what obligation we have to the others.
Books are often promoted as “great for bookclubs”. Incorrectly, the label has come to imply that a book is accessible and uncontroversial. Something that can be discussed calmly over light snacks. But really a great bookclub book is one that will spark debate, with characters that aren’t all bad or all good. If you’re thinking of starting a “theater club” (and I think you should) An Inspector Calls is a complex and enjoyable first pick.
An Inspector Calls runs now through January 28 at the Waterfront Playhouse. Tickets are available at waterfrontplayhouse.org.[livemarket market_name="KONK Life LiveMarket" limit=3 category=“” show_signup=0 show_more=0]