As the lights inside the Don Evans Black Box Theater dimmed Thursday night, the cast of Shakespeare ’70’s “An Inspector Calls” wore the same stunned expressions as the few theatergoers scattered throughout the crowd. An odd combination of awe and confusion had etched itself across the faces of every person in attendance, a common response to the ending of the play. Only one person, director Carol Thompson, was smiling.
She knew her cast had done its job.
Shakespeare ’70, a non-profit classical theater company made up of professional actors, is performing J.B. Priestley’s “An Inspector Calls.” The play, set in the waning days of peace prior to World War I, tells the story of an aristocratic family that may not be as pristine and proper as it seems.
The Birlings are one of the wealthiest and most respected families in all of Brumley, an industrial city in the North Midlands of England. The opening of the play features a jovial Arthur and Sybil Birling sipping some port and celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila and her fianc?e, a savvy businessman named Gerald Croft. Shiela’s often beleaguered brother Eric is also present, watching the celebration with uneasy eyes.
The pomp and circumstance are quickly broken up by the arrival of an enigmatic inspector named Goole. Goole, played by George Hartpence, strolls in donning a serious expression and a mystical aura that demands attention and respect. He informs the Birlings that a girl has committed suicide and that he needs to question them about the matter. From that point on, the play takes a grave turn from a light-hearted mockery of aristocratic folly to a scary psychological analysis of just how badly one can treat his fellow man.
Goole sets the tone for the remainder of the play near the end of Act I. Croft, in an attempt to force the ghastly inquisitor to leave, exclaims that he and the Birlings are “distinguished citizens, not hardened criminals.” Goole smiles and calmly replies, “Sometimes, there is little difference between the two.”
The play proceeds to morally dissect every member of the Birling household, illustrating their sins against Goole’s victim one by one until the inspector breaks them all with a thrilling climactic speech in which he sums up the play’s message in one sentence.
“We do not live alone,” Goole howled as he sauntered off the stage.
Of course, there are several more twists between Goole’s diatribe and the play’s actual finale. But, if you want to know those, you should see the play.
“I’m still trying to gather everything,” Pam Meilands, junior music education major, said. “I couldn’t see the ending coming!”
“I was surprised, because in the past I saw a Shakespeare ’70 show and I didn’t enjoy it, but I would definitely recommend seeing ‘Inspector,'” Cassandra Kahn, senior biology major, said.
As the crowd filtered out of the Black Box praising the performance and the actors, Thompson smiled confidently as she quietly moved between her fans.
“I was so excited (to work with this play). It’s challenging to work on a piece of theater that has so many psychological and social aspects,” Thompson said. “It’s wonderful to work with this group though.”
Hartpence took the time to share his thoughts on preparing for the performance.
“It turned out that Goole was more of an avenging angel character, while everyone else was so high class. That’s why I used the more localized accent as opposed to polish, standard British accent,” Hartpence said. “Goole was a popular type of character for ’40s plays; you know, the supernatural character sort of guiding the mortals.”
Hartpence went on to say that he loved his cast mates just as much as he loved Goole’s archetype.
“Truly, it’s amazing to work with an ensemble cast like this,” she said. “Everyone has their role, and they’re all equal to one another. Everyone was just great.”