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Published: Friday, 12/30/2005

Carol mixes laughter, missed opportunities

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Listening to the accountant (Seth Shaffer), center, and her
leading man (Tom Hofbauer) discuss the relevance of A Christmas
Carol gives theater manager Zorah Bloch (Cindy McComb) a headache in Inspecting Carol. Listening to the accountant (Seth Shaffer), center, and her leading man (Tom Hofbauer) discuss the relevance of A Christmas Carol gives theater manager Zorah Bloch (Cindy McComb) a headache in Inspecting Carol.
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Inspecting Carol has a super cast and plenty of comedy, but the sum of its parts is less than a completely entertaining package.

There is, however, still much to like about the show, the second production in the inaugural season of Harvest Theatre of Toledo.

Inspecting Carol is a show about a show, A Christmas Carol, to be exact. It's being produced for the 12th consecutive season by the Soapbox Theater, a ramshackle professional troupe that behaves more like a group of self-centered adolescents.

No one really wants to do A Christmas Carol again, but it's a popular production that will help the troupe's coffers. And those coffers need a lot of help. Not only are season subscriptions down by 50 percent, the National Endowment for the Arts may pull Soapbox's annual grant. It is sending an inspector to assess the theater and its latest production before making its final decision.

The troupe has more problems than just shaky finances. There are rampant egos and not-so-hidden agendas, a love affair, a Tiny Tim who looks forbiddingly hearty, and a new cast member with some strange phobias.

Despite the best efforts of the stage manager, the various cast members are more interested in bickering and preening than in rehearsing.

Into this mix comes Wayne Wellacre, who wants an audition. Wayne is so bad as an actor, it makes Kevin, the accountant, and Zorah, the artistic director, think that he's the NEA inspector in disguise, and they cater to his every whim, even changing Charles Dickens' dialogue without question.

Inspecting Carol is filled with verbal and visual humor, and the cast has plenty of talent to go around.

Among the 12 cast members are Toledo actor, filmmaker, and improv comedian Tom Hofbauer, who plays Larry, who keeps trying to modernize Dickens' classic work; Thom Eric Sinn and Collin Wizgen, members of Toledo's Random Acts theatrical troupe; Cindy McComb, a veteran of more than 50 productions in three states, and Seth Shaffer, who was in the University of Toledo's production of Compleat Works of Wllm Shakespr (abridged)

With actors like this, it's hard to figure out why Inspecting Carol isn't more fun.

The best I can say is that that elusive quality called chemistry is missing. With few exceptions, the performers seem to work as individuals, not a team. The timing isn't as seamless as it should be.

The magic of theater lies in the actors' ability to get their audience to enter their world, to believe.

This didn't happen in Inspecting Carol.

I laughed a lot, it's true, but I left the theater more sad than happy. There were just too many missed opportunities.

The Harvest Theatre of Toledo presents "Inspecting Carol" at 8 tonight and 2:30 and 8 p.m. tomorrow in the theater of the Collingwood Arts Center, 2413 Collingwood Blvd. Tickets are $20 for adults and $17 for seniors and students with identification; discounts are available with the donation of canned goods or gently used coats. Information: 800-838-3006.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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