CENTERVILLE — As I sat in my seat, the audience members and I were anxiously waiting for the lights to dim for the beginning of a piece of theatre that is hardly ever performed; or at least not performed enough. The cast and crew at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre proved that in their opening night production of the dramatic mystery, An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestly.
Set in the fictional town of Brumly, England, the wealthy and ignorant Arthur Birling and his wife Sybil are happily celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila to her fiance Gerald Croft, the son of Arthur’s business rival. Following in suit is Arthur and Sybil’s son Eric, who is a lot less enthused than the others for the occasion. After discussing his business practices, impending knighthood, and personal views, Arthur Birling and his family’s celebration is suddenly cut short with the arrival of the police inspector, Mr. Goole. Straightway, Inspector Goole reveals his purpose for coming to the Birling home; to interrogate them individually concerning a young woman named Eva Smith who committed suicide earlier that day. Goole claims that Eva Smith wrote the names of the Birling family down in her diary before her death, thus linking them to her suicide in one way or another. Thus the mystery and intrigue commence, as they are all questioned and interrogated by Inspector Goole to reveal the awful truth.
From the moment the actors entered the scene, their characters’ personalities radiated from their mannerisms, their language, and the delivery of their lines. Each character was immediately believable and relatable. From his first line, Nathan Riddle who portrayed Arthur Birling easily embodied how a snobbish, arrogant and ignorant business man would behave. His candid sweeping aside of the looming First World War added to his ignorance and bigotry that made his character all the more interesting and damming. Indeed, Arthur Birling was fun to dislike. Apart from portraying the character well, Riddle also kept the audience engaged during lengthy speeches and exposition in the beginning of the play. (The script can drag on.) But Riddle, with his wonderful inflection and mannerisms, made those long moments stay young, fresh, and entertaining.
Ed Farnsworth portrayed Inspector Goole in a satisfying and intriguing way. With the overall sadness and negativity of Eva Smith’s death permeating throughout the play, Farnsworth’s performance made me feel satisfaction when these snobbish people who were partially responsible for Eva’s death were receiving their just reward. Farnsworth took command of the scene as Goole when he immediately killed the celebratory mood during his entrance. Farnsworth and Riddle both portrayed their Birling and Goole in such a way that the tension between them was palpable. Arthur Birling says in the play that Goole “was prejudiced towards us,” and that was easy to see in their portrayals between each other.
Complementing Riddle and Farnsworth’s performances, the other actors deserve recognition for their execution of such complex and difficult characters. Cathy Ostler as Sybil, Jordan Davis as Eric, Katie Plott as Sheila, Jackson Stewart as Gerald, and Marinda Maxfield as Edna the maid all depicted their characters in a realistic fashion. This praise is particularly true of Davis and Plott. Their brother and sister relationship was both heartbreaking and inspiring to witness. Without giving away crucial spoilers, when Eric’s true colors and story were revealed, Davis demonstrated that honest, fearless acting is the best path to take. His sobs, moans, and realization of his characters’s plight were devastating, which made me feel that much more pitiful for him. Plott stupendously made her transition from the arrogant, selfish daughter of Arthur and Sybil to the aware, heartbroken woman she was supposed to be in the first place. Both she and Davis were the only redeeming characters in this tale, even if it meant denouncing their parents and their views about the less fortunate.
These directing choices demonstrate that first time CenterPoint director Richie Uminski, has the experience and know-how to direct such a poignant narrative. His direction of the actors was perfection, as was evident in the overall moral and message. Inspector Goole reminds the audience that if they are not careful with their actions, they will learn it from “fire and blood and anguish.” While that was an indirect reference to the upcoming world wars following the play’s time period, it can be applied to today. Uminski executed that vision excellently.
Along with the brilliant acting and directing, the set design by Brian Hahn was a pleasure to the eye. The marble fireplace, the brown leather lounge chair, the green tufted Victorian couch all added to the gluttony of the Birling’s and told a story of their own. For example, Eric Birling sat in the over-sized lounge chair which he sank into, making him appear smaller; both physically and morally. I also surprisingly liked the tall black stage curtains that served as the walls. I usually prefer large and lavish sets, but the curtains made the furniture stand out and gave the illusion of tall, vaulted ceilings.
In the directors notes, Uminski makes the point that the script asks more questions than gives answers. But those questions need to be asked. The actors certainly ask them in their performances. And their performance prompted me to ask the same. Uminski mentions a few: “What is truth? How do we affect those around us? What responsibility do we have to others?” If you have one responsibility in the near future, make it seeing “An Inspector Calls” this season. You’ll be glad you did.