An Inspector Calls is one of those plays that someone who’s been participating in theater since age 4 should probably have seen, read, or been in at least a few times by the time they graduate college with a degree in theater. Somehow this show has eluded me for years and then some and so when the Stanford Theater & Performance Studies department, along with Stanford Summer Repertory Theater announced their production, I was anxious to see why this show is such a classic. What I discovered was what happens when PBS Masterpiece has a love child with a Telemundo soap opera.
Drama people! This play is dun, dun, duuunnnnn…drama. Or rather, DRAMA!!! Cleverly disguised at first as a civilized, upper class family dinner one quickly uncovers layers of scandal with twists, turns and humorous thrills. This show has all the prim, charming British characters you’d recognize from any period comedy of manners and then thrusts them deep into a well spun, engaging mystery format, the type you hardly see on the stage anymore.
Our actors, a mix of green and seasoned individuals, give the consistent, stylized, appropriately heightened performances that you’d expect from any classic British thriller. They aren’t wholly unique, landing closer in the realm of stereotype, but they needn’t be so very real either, so it works well. There are some great moments of timing and a handful of priceless facial expressions that serve the comic moments particularly well. I think the nature of this show lends itself to a cast that doesn’t take itself too seriously and so it was easy to just enjoy the “shock” of each reveal on a more humorous rather than purely realistic level.
Solid technical design all around provided a nice 1912 aesthetic setting for the plot to unfold in, and while the scene transitions were perhaps a bit over the top even for this plot, they are fun and give the audience and actors a moment to breathe.
There’s a lot of recapping and repetition throughout which provided some additional humor, but also made the relatively short, 90 minutes no intermission production, feel a bit longer than it really needed to be. Overall though a pleasant experience. 3 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a fair bit of humor and a good old-fashioned dose of suspense in a tight little package of theatrical appeal. An Inspector Calls plays through May 25th at the Piggott Theatre on the Stanford University Campus.
**The theater does run warm for most with only ceiling fans and no air conditioning to be found. A walk around the campus is a lovely pre or post show activity and if you’re looking for a meal afterwards, there are tons of places in Downtown Palo Alto. My favorites Tamarine (upish-scale Vietnamese fusion, wonderful, unique dishes) Joya (Latin American Tapas, great for sharing with 3 or more, reservations required, it gets packed!) and Vero (delicious, fresh and affordable authentic Italian). Feed your belly AND your soul!