`Inspector' an absorbing mystery

Bowie Community Theatre's players draw the audience into a play that slowly unravels each character's secrets.

Review

Arundel Live

Arts and entertainment in Anne Arundel County

April 29, 2005|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bowie Community Theatre's production of J.B. Priestly's classic thriller An Inspector Calls provides a total theater experience that begins on entering the playhouse.

The audience views a lovely scene complete with a cobblestone street winding up an incline toward a flower-surrounded English manor house, its illuminated windows casting a warm glow to invite our entry.

As lightning flashes and thunder rumbles, a tall man wearing a long raincoat strides purposefully past the curtain where the scene is displayed. He disappears off stage, and the curtain opens to reveal the interior of the home.

Arthur Birling, the owner of the house as well as a local factory, is found in the drawing room with his wife, Sybil, his son, Eric, and his daughter, Sheila, whose engagement to Gerald Croft is being celebrated this evening.

A mysterious inspector appears and begins to interrogate family members about the death of young Eva Smith, who has died in the local infirmary as a result of self-inflicted poison. Inspector Goole seems to know how each family member might be implicated in Eva's death.

Richard Atha-Nicholls' direction instantly absorbs the audience in the unfolding of an intriguing mystery that is revealed through each character.

Although the setting is 1912, the characters often seem contemporary in their beliefs and attitudes. As Inspector Goole forces family members to examine personal actions that implicate them in Eva's demise, their pomposity, coldness and immorality are revealed.

As Arthur Birling, Michael Dunlop is required to deliver reams of meaningful dialogue to reveal hidden facets of his character while propelling the action forward through family relationships of varying complexities.

Dunlop's Birling accepts little blame for his part in Eva's suicide, although he had fired Eva for striking for higher wages.

Mary Fawcett Watko plays Sybil, who is colder and equally immoral, incapable of recognizing how her cruel actions might have pushed Eva over the edge, as Sybil deprived Eva of help in her situation.

Linda Swann plays Birling's daughter, Sheila, who is the one character capable of growth through feeling remorse for her part in Eva's death. Swann's Sheila conveys an intolerance of her family's hypocrisy and pomposity and disgust for her fiance's behavior toward Eva.

The fiancee, Gerald Croft, is well played by James McDaniel, who is most effective in his scenes with Sheila and Arthur Birling. Sheila's alcoholic brother, Eric, is played with sensitivity and intense feeling by Michael Rogers.

The most enigmatic character is Inspector Goole, as played by Richard McGraw in a compelling performance. McGraw's inspector is not stereotypically rude, but has an appealing, somewhat awkward quality. This inspector hints at a gentle nature beneath his stiff exterior. McGraw's inspector is a man of patience and insight, at times seeming almost priestlike.

McGraw's Inspector Goole may haunt your thoughts after the performance, as will the play's surprise ending. Director Atha-Nicholls spoke the truth when he predicted that we would come to see a mystery, and we would leave with a mystery.

An Inspector Calls, which continues tonight and tomorrow night, is riveting theater not to be missed.

Reservations: 301-805-0219.

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