The madcap Christmas comedy “Inspecting Carol” is showing through Dec. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre in Edmonds. Pictured are, standing, Jay Jenkins as Larry, Stacey Gilbert as MJ, Ian Wight as Bart and Ray Miller as Walter, sitting, Oliver Sargent as Tiny Tim, John Fry as Phil and Susan Connors as Dorothy. (James Sipes)

The madcap Christmas comedy “Inspecting Carol” is showing through Dec. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre in Edmonds. Pictured are, standing, Jay Jenkins as Larry, Stacey Gilbert as MJ, Ian Wight as Bart and Ray Miller as Walter, sitting, Oliver Sargent as Tiny Tim, John Fry as Phil and Susan Connors as Dorothy. (James Sipes)

‘Inspecting Carol’ turns the Dickens Christmas classic on its head

The Phoenix Theatre in Edmonds stages the madcap comedy that originated 28 years ago in Seattle.

Most theater companies stage an annual “A Christmas Carol” show for the holidays. Here’s a play that makes fun of that.

In the madcap Christmas comedy “Inspecting Carol,” showing through Dec. 22 at the Phoenix Theater in Edmonds, we get a behind-the-scenes look at a struggling theater’s annual clumsy production of “A Christmas Carol.” Rehearsals are at a standstill, Tim is no longer Tiny, Scrooge wants to do the play in Spanish, and the play’s funding is on hold pending an inspection.

“Inspecting Carol” was written by Daniel J. Sullivan, the former artistic director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre. When the show premiered at the Rep in 1991, it was an indisputable hit that helped jump-start Sullivan’s Broadway career as a director and playwright. (The theater company reprised “Inspecting Carol” 21 years later, starring several members of the original cast.)

Sullivan, who went on to direct Broadway’s “Proof” and “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” crossed Nikolai Gogol’s “The Inspector General” with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to write one hilarious and heartwarming play. His show makes a caricature of the typical theater company — folks from the ’90s Seattle theater scene inspired each character.

“Sullivan, with the help of his company, wrote it to poke fun at theaters’ annual production of ‘Christmas Carol,’ and some of the people they were making fun of, and some people in the production, I know or knew,” said Keith Dahlgren, director of the show.

There’s Sidney (Jim Thompson), who plays Jacob Marley and Fezziwig, who is constantly clanging his ghostly chains, even as Fezziwig. There’s Walter (Ray Miller), cast as the three spirits of Christmas, who is new to “A Christmas Carol,” but doesn’t get much rehearsal time, so he’s having a hard time learning his lines. And there’s the star of the show, Larry (Jay Jenkins), who plays Scrooge, but is bored by Dickens’ tale and wants to rewrite it.

Jenkins, who has been with Phoenix Theatre for 10 years, said the juxtaposition of characters — the ones played “backstage,” like his Larry, and the ones played “on stage,” like Larry’s Scrooge — make the show within a show very funny.

“Larry, himself, is sort of the epitome of a theater actor,” said Jenkins, who most recently played George in Phoenix’s “Moon Over Buffalo” in 2016. “He’s not only emotional, but also very arts-oriented and very tuned in to the plight of humanity. Which makes him the opposite of what Scrooge is.”

This is Dahlgren’s third holiday show with Phoenix and his second time directing “Inspecting Carol.” He also was the director for The Outcast Players’ production of the Sullivan original at Historic Everett Theatre in 2003.

“The way it’s written, it sets up this house of cards and then just knocks it down,” Dahlgren said of “Inspecting Carol.” “It’s laugh-out-loud funny.”

Taking a page from Sullivan’s script, so to speak, Dahlgren also created a comedy show called “Citizen Scrooge” — a cross between “Citizen Kane” and “A Christmas Carol” — for Unexpected Productions, an improv company at Pike Place Market. In 2011, he also directed “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” for The Bathhouse Theater in Seattle.

Jenkins said “Inspecting Carol” is yet another great alternative to an annual staging of “A Christmas Carol.” No joke.

“We’ve all seen ‘A Christmas Carol’ a hundred thousand times, so it’s hilarious to see how this show deconstructs it,” Jenkins said. “With all the changes and accidents that happen, how this troupe twists the ‘Christmas Carol’ we all know too well, makes it really fun.

“The play they put on (for the inspector) is not quite what it’s supposed to be.”

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com.

If you go

Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Inspecting Carol” is showing through Dec. 22 at the Edmonds theater, 9673 Firdale Ave. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, plus a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 seniors, students, military. Limited tickets online; more available at the box office. Call 206-533-2000 or go to www.tptedmonds.org for more information.

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