Theater 150 has a great new downtown Ojai location, with a lobby, a concession counter, and a capacity of 100-twice as many seats as its predecessor. To get an idea of the troupe’s holiday show, Inspecting Carol, a comedy written by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theater Company, imagine equal parts Waiting for Guffman and Noises Off, with a dash of Dickens. The play-within-a-play structure allows this Carol to blend classic slapstick and wry wit with mistaken-identity-inspired chaos and timely social commentary. In it, a small theater company gathers for their yearly production of A Christmas Carol, but, having been informed that their much-needed NEA grant is pending an inspection after their disastrous production the previous year, they anxiously await the arrival of the endowment’s all-powerful representative. When an actor arrives to audition for the play and begins taking copious notes on the production, assumptions are made with increasingly complex and hilarious results.
Richard Kuhlman’s direction is deft, as is the performance by Cheryl Bricker as Zorah, the high-strung director of the play within the play. Byron Hays is Larry, the aging hippie who plays Scrooge. He’s the one who put their funding in jeopardy in the first place with his erratic behavior the year prior. The clever set was designed by Alex Hutton, and Sarah Bellwood’s costumes worked beautifully.
If the audience’s reaction is any measure, this production is a hit. It is impossible to count the number of times that all in attendance burst into loud and hearty laughter. Artistic Directors Chris Nottoli and Deb Norton were originally hesitant to remount the production, preferring to move on to new projects, but those who missed the chance to see it the previous year (and those who hadn’t gotten enough) convinced them to give it another go-round. In light of this, one of the play’s hilarious last lines-“You mean we have to do it again?”-takes on a rich new layer of meaning. The bottom line is that we are fortunate to have a second chance to get to Theater 150 and dispel some holiday stress with a good long laugh.