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Christmas in springtime

Inspecting a homegrown theatrical farce

From left: Dana Galagan as Dorothy, Tyler Petty as Bart, Tim Hoban as Phil, Brittany Griffins as M.J., and Jed Slaughter as Wayne. Photo credit: Tim Johnson

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Plays about incompetent theater companies putting on bad plays are so common as to be practically a genre of their own. Some are as bad as the absurd performances they satirize, but there have been a few on stage and screen that are outstanding. The classics of this type are Noises Off and the mockumentary film Waiting for Guffman. The Puget Sound region has its own home-grown entry in the genre, Inspecting Carol by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Company, which premiered at the Rep in 1991. Now it comes to Lakewood Playhouse with an outstanding ensemble cast led by Dennis Rolly, Jed Slaughter, Brittany Griffins, Mark Peterson and Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson, directed by Jen York.

The Soapbox Playhouse has put on the same boring production of A Christmas Carol year after boring year. But this year, things go even more wildly awry than usual. The company is broke, the kid playing Tiny Tim (Gunnar Ray as Luther/Tim) is growing up and is way too big for the part, the actor playing Scrooge (Rolly as Larry/Scrooge) wants to do it in Spanish, and the actor playing Bob Cratchit (Tim Hoban as Phil/Bob) has had a one-time fling with the company founder and artistic director, Zorah Bloch (Steffanie Foster), who is now trying to seduce the new guy, Wayne Wellacre (Slaughter). And for reasons that should make no sense to any of them, the entire company thinks Wayne is the inspector from the National Endowment spying on them incognito as a would-be actor -- which is apparently why Zorah is trying so hard to seduce him.

Like many a farce, it starts off rather slowly. Conversations between M.J. the stage manager (Griffins) and Karen (Ferguson), who handles the dwindling-to-non-existent finances, are only mildly funny but are needed to set the stage for the mayhem to follow.

The comedy really kicks into high gear when Slaughter first appears on the scene as a confused would-be actor who bursts into an impromptu monologue: "Now is the winter of our discontent ..." from Richard III. This kind of comedy is something new to Slaughter, and it seems to be a role he was born to play.

Rolly is outstanding as the proud trouble maker Larry, who insists on changing everything and somehow gets away with it (up until but not including doing the play in Spanish). Rolly has been acting since the 1970s and has proven himself to be equally at ease with the silliest of comedies to the most demanding of tragedies, performing in more Shakespeare plays with Harlequin and the old Washington Shakespeare Festival than, probably, anyone. His range of emotions expressed in this performance is amazing. He assumes the character so completely that even when he's just standing on the side while other actors are interacting, he is thoroughly being Larry/Scrooge.

Also outstanding in this play are Bloch (hilarious in the seduction scene with Slaughter), Griffins, who frantically tries to herd this company of misfits, and Peterson as the actor, who hates everything about the show he's doing and can't learn his lines -- partly because he was brought in at the last minute as a token black actor in Zorah's new commitment to multi-culturalism and partly because Larry keeps changing the script.

Blake York has come up with a purposefully unremarkable scenic design that is perfect for this play, and Stu Johnson has devised some crazy costumes -- most notably the costumes Wayne is forced to wear as the various ghosts, including one he says makes him look like the ghost of Liberace.

For a lighthearted evening of laughter, take in Lakewood Playhouse's Christmas in springtime, Inspecting Carol.

INSPECTING CAROL, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through May 12, $26, $23 military and seniors, $20 students and educators, pay-what-you-can Feb. 28 and March 6-7, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, 253.588.0042,

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