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Holiday hilarity: An evening spent ‘Inspecting Carol’

You know the story of “The Christmas Carol.” But you don’t know what’s behind “Inspecting Carol,” Piedmont Players’ holiday production.
While the first act is zany, it’s a bit slow. But when the physical comedy begins in the second act, the audience at the Producer’s Night event warmed right up and the crazy action carried everyone to a wacky, rock-n-rollin’ end.
“Inspecting Carol” is a play about the play, but really about the flat-broke theater company that’s desperate to make their annual fundraiser a success.
You’ve got the shrill and high strung Zorah Bloch trying to direct a cast of mixed and battling egos, played by Marnie Stoker at a pitch higher than anyone else.
Her foil is Rodney Lippard, playing the theater manager, Kevin, who’s nothing but bad news, as far as finance is concerned. Lippard does a fine job, going from disappointment to horror to shock.
The cast of the play within the play includes the temperamental and tampering Larry as Scrooge, played by Scott Teeter, with a distinct edge — he doesn’t just want to be an actor — he wants to be creative, and usually goes too far.
Nathan Prater plays Phil, Bob Cratchit, and he’s got the hots for Zorah, but is not so excited about carrying a Tiny Tim who’s now 12 years old and more than 5 feet tall. Prater is lucky enough to share the production with his son, Andrew, who plays Luther, the not-so-Tiny-Tim, and with his wife, Amy Prater, whose role will be revealed only if you see the play.
Lori Van Wallandael plays MJ, ever-capable stage manager and sometime actress, as just the sort of person a floundering theater company needs — the voice of authority.
Into this tidy mess walks Wayne, a wanna-be actor, played with the right amount of bad acting by Bob Hackett. MJ tries to get rid of him, but then Kevin lets it slip that a government inspector is coming to see if the company deserves a grant they’ve always depended on.
Can you guess the confusion that follows? It’s classic mistaken identity farce.
Among the cast is the sweet Carole Davis, playing actress and vocal coach Dorothy. Davis is always a pleasure on stage. Her theatrical husband is Sidney, played by Philip Shore. The two make the ideal older theatrical couple, and Sidney has a breathtaking bit near the conclusion.
Ryan Williams — you’ll know him by his hair — is Bart, Bart of many parts.
Kudos to Bryant Lewis, who plays, in the play within a play, the token person of color, who gets the role of all the ghosts. His bits in costume are hysterical.
Director Reid Leonard pulls it all together on a set that is full of surprises, also of his design. Jim Beaudoin provided all variety of costumes and Jeff Miller, the stage manager of the whole shebang, kept up with the all-important props. A turkey stars in several scenes.
The entire cast gets a nod for keeping their cool when all around them falls apart — literally, and leaves the audience in a good mood. At 2 hours, with intermission, it’s an evening the family can enjoy. There is the occasional grown-up reference that might lead to a question or two, but so much comedy follows that it shouldn’t be a problem.
As Tiny Tim says, “God bless us, everyone.”
“Inspecting Carol,” produced by Piedmont Players and Salcoa Contracting Inc., opens to the public tonight and continues Friday and Saturday and Dec. 12-15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Meroney Theater, with a matinee this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For tickets call 704-633-5471 or go to www.piedmontplayers.com.

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