Having worked in theater for years, something I enjoy a great deal is a play-within-a-play. The movie Waiting for Guffman? One of my all-time favorites. Noises Off, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kiss Me Kate and Moulin Rouge? Yes, please. For those of us who have been caught in that backstage nightmare where everything may be falling apart but the show must go on, they’re a kind of catharsis.
At the Soap Box Playhouse, Zorah (Joan Meyer) has four days to pull together the annual production of A Christmas Carol and has just found out from their bookkeeper Kevin (Charles Fitz-Gerald) that the federal grant expected to keep them afloat is being held up pending an inspection. Wayne (David Mann), who is traveling the country trying to find a theater to give him a chance, is mistaken for the inspector – and the group at the Soap Box will do anything in the hope he will push through their grant.
William E. Fritz’s scenic design is wonderful for this piece – a small stage on the right, a wedge of audience seating on the left where those watching rehearsals and the show can sit. The actors all seem very at home here. (Of course, stage a show where actors can play actors, and you’ve got an added layer of peace for your cast – it’s not that far out of their comfort zone, all the better for them and for us!)
There’s much to love about this piece, and how well the ensemble work (and play) together is just part of it. Robin Leary, as M.J., the beleaguered stage manager, is no-nonsense and completely endearing all at once; stage managers hold the show together, and I never once doubted she had that capability. Meyer’s Zorah is a fiery, funny dynamo, willing to do what it takes to keep her theater open. Mann’s bad acting as David can only be carried off by a good actor, and a very funny one – his audition scene is a special treat. The actors in the Soap Box’s company – especially Marilyn Detmer, Devin Funnye and Ron Delucia – have excellent comedic timing, and by the time we get to their final dress rehearsal you know it’s going to go off the rails … but you can’t imagine how badly, or how funny the result will be.
I do wonder why HMT chose to do A Christmas Carol in December and this show now, when they could have skipped A Christmas Carol completely (it’s overdone in the area) and produced this show in December, when it would have been timelier (and so much more welcome at Christmas than a million renditions of the same old stories!), allowing them to launch another show in February altogether.
I’m not a comedy person, I’ll admit that freely, and shows that genuinely make me laugh are few and far between – but this show succeeded. Excellent work keeping it all running so smoothly by director Jonathan Hefter and excellent work by cast and crew making something so difficult look so easy and so much fun.
“Inspecting Carol,” Home Made Theater, 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs; through February 25; $27-$21; Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes including a 15-minute intermission; (518) 587-5527; www.homemadetheater.org