With a presidential election year upon us it reignites the never ending discussions of social responsibility as well as bringing about a desire to see the elite of our society unmasked during presidential debates for the hypocrites we are so sure they are. Which is why this is the perfect time for Pioneer Theatre Company’s thoroughly engaging production of “An Inspector Calls” which premiered this past Friday.
There is a reason that “An Inspector Calls” has been intriguing British audiences since its stage premiere in 1945 and has spawned both television and film adaptation while also being taught in British schools and its not just because the Brits like a good old fashioned detective thriller. “An Inspector Calls” is a layered examination of the struggles of the lower social classes and the indifference of many in the upper class.
Set in 1912 in the fictional British town of Brumley the play focuses on the prosperous upper class Birling family who are celebrating the recent engagement of their daughter Shelia (played by Katie Wieland) to Gerald Croft (played by John Skelley) and are toasting their good fortune when a mysterious police Inspector (played by Christopher Kelly) pays a house call and thoroughly ruins their entire evening through a series of pointed questions and accusations about the suicide of a young girl earlier in the evening.
Kelly in particular brings a commanding stage presence in his role as the Inspector as he takes complete control of the Birling family and unmasks them one by one as all having a hand in the death of a young girl whose life connected and was irrevocable changed by each member of the family. There is a strange delight in seeing the Inspector strip each of them bare of their initial arrogance and self satisfaction that they all started the evening with. The play begins a slow but steady burn to its thrilling and suspenseful climax from the moment the Inspector arrives on the stage and the drama is completely riveting.
At times the message of social responsibility get a bit heavy handed as the Inspector assigns responsibility to everyone in the room for the suicide of the young girl beginning with Arthur Birling (played by Joseph Dellger) who sacks her from his factory for demanding a pay increase to his wife Sybil (played by Mia Dillon) who uses her position as the head of a women’s charity to deny the girl welfare. While Arthur and Sybil refuse to take responsibility for their actions their daughter Shelia and son Eric (played by John Evans Reese) surprisingly do and add context to the overriding message that actions have consequences.
There is also a dark humor to the play which helps to ease the tension while at the same time showcasing the elitist arrogance and ignorance of Arthur and Sybil in particular. Delleger give a delightful performance as the family’s pompous patriarch with some of the best lines of the evening every time he feels emasculated by the Inspector. Dillon gives a wonderful performance as Sybil whose prideful haughtiness makes her a ripe target for the Inspector who is more than happy to give her plenty of rope to hang herself with.
Director Mary Robinson made a bold but beautiful choice in taking what was originally a three act play and deciding to run the play straight through without any intermission. This proved to be a wise decision as the drama and intrigue of the play grabs the attention of the audience from the very beginning and doesn’t let up for a moment leaving audience quite literally holding their breath in suspense along with the cast by evenings end. Robinson takes full advantage of a clever well written script that has more then enough twist and turns to maintain the audience’s interest for the entire evening which makes “An Inspector Calls” a visit worth making.