Arts & Leisure

Conscience and “Inspector Calls”

“THE INSPECTOR Calls” on stage as the Westminster Community Playhouse (WCP photo).

By Thom deMartino 

Each and every one of us hides behind a mask of civility in our culture: to hide our flaws, our transgressions, our shames … those regrettable traits within ourselves we’d much rather refuse to acknowledge. But there are things our conscience won’t let us bury – for those of us who have one, anyway.

In the end, who is truly the stronger spirit: the one who briefly acknowledges their mistakes, only to once again bury their head in the sand; or the one who accepts their responsibility, and wears it resolutely, determined never to forget?

Westminster Community Playhouse has kicked off the New Year with an unusual whodunit, the striking “An Inspector Calls.” It’s 1912, and World War looms upon the horizon…not that you could tell from the celebrations of the Birling family. Wealthy industrialist Arthur Burling (Guy C. van Empel) and his wife Sybil (Harlene Miller) are toasting their daughter’s nuptials, as she has agreed to marry Gerald Croft (Mason Meskell), the son of Arthur’s business rival. Sheila Birling (Adriana Catanzarite) is smitten with her charming beau, and even her brother Eric (Ari Licht) holds him in high esteem.

The group has just been privy to Gerald’s marriage proposal to Sheila, when the family’s butler Edgar (Wayne Mayberry) announces that an inspector has arrived at the door, and is waiting to speak with them. Confused, the patriarch agrees to see the unexpected guest, who introduces himself as Inspector Goole (Eric Johns); Goole explains he is there investigating the tragic death of a young woman named Eva Smith, who took her own life earlier in the evening.

But if this was a case of suicide, why the visit to the Birlings? Because of the circumstances that led to the woman’s desperate act, beginning with her dismissal from her job at the family’s company — by Mr. Birling himself. And yet, that’s certainly not enough for the determined Goole to charge the industrialist with — but then again, he’s not the only one responsible.

Over the course of the story, a complex web unfolds: how actions, perhaps seeming so minor, so trivial, to us, can have such terrible repercussions. And when one realizes their connection to society and the world around them, will they embrace it … Or turn away?

It’s the final weekend to catch the Bob May-directed “Inspector,” and it’s certainly something both different and special for WCP. It’s a murder mystery without the murder, illustrating the interconnectedness of humanity, and asking the audience to reflect upon their own relationships to one another – whether family, or stranger. Johns’ Goole is persistent, paced: unwilling to be rushed by the powerful, knowing that in this case, he is the one with the power, and is determined that everyone know their part in Eva Smith’s tragedy.

Meskell’s Gerald comes off as initially dashing with his wooing of Sheila, and as the plot unfolds the audience sees numerous aspects to him – not all charming. Van Empel’s Arthur and Miller’s Sybil are fascinating in themselves, stuck in a 19th century mindset, and unable to understand and accept the changes in the culture of the time, as the younger family members do. Licht’s Eric is a libertine, and what sympathy he has for the common man may well be nothing but show; and Catanzarite’s Sheila is edgy but determined herself, willing to not shut her eyes nor ears to the truth that Goole is telling.

In fact, the whole production is a fascinating and timely piece: though written in the 1950’s about the 1910’s, it seems remarkably relevant to today. And though everyone continuously tries to shelter Sheila, she’s resolved to not be put aside or sheltered merely because the men in the room tell her not to trouble herself over Goole’s inquiry.

A stunning piece, in its last weekend, “An Inspector Calls” is a fascinating study in human nature and the lengths we go to hide behind those masks of so-called “civility.”

“An Inspector Calls” stars Eric Johns, Adriana Catanzarite and Mason Meskell in this tale of tragedy and revelation, and what our responsibility to humanity might be. Playing through Sunday, January 26 at the Westminister Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St, Westminster,  92683. Ticketing information available online at http://www.wctstage.org, or call (714) 893-8626.

 

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