An Inspector Calls

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday January 24, 2019

A still from the production of "An Inspector Calls," currently in Los Angeles as part of an American tour.
A still from the production of "An Inspector Calls," currently in Los Angeles as part of an American tour.  

Stephen Daldry's acclaimed 1992 adaptation of the classic drawing room play "An Inspector Calls" comes to the Wallis after a successful revival in London's West End in November of 2016. With Liam Brennan returning to the role as the Inspector, this classic tale by J.B. Priestly is humorous and curious, but also hits the current state of the world today hard.

A swift three-act drama, the play takes place on a single night in 1912 in the home of the Birling family. Arthur Birling (Jeff Harmer), his wife Sybil (Christine Kavanagh) and their son Eric (Hamish Riddle) are celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila (Lianne Harvey) to Gerald Croft (Andrew Macklin) the son of one of Birling's competitors. But during their festivities, the mysterious Inspector Goole (Brennan) arrives. He announces that a woman named Eva Smith has killed herself by drinking disinfectant and someone in the Birling family is responsible for it. Throughout the evening, everyone at the party is questioned and eventually reveals a dark secret, unraveling a greater notion that how we treat people can have devastating consequences.

The star of Daldry's production is the production itself. From the moment the classic red velvet curtain rises, we are transported to a rainy, misty London evening where the light from a townhouse reveals a party inside. For the first ten minutes or so, the actors perform inside the makeshift home, only partly seen by the audience. It is only when the Inspector arrives that the home opens up revealing a dining room. Much of the play occurs on the London street which also doubles as the inside of the home. It's an interesting dynamic as the reveal of the Birling family's less than stellar behavior brings them down to a "lower" level (i.e.: status). It is when they believe themselves to be untouchable and above everyone else that they remain firmly entrenched in their home.

The play itself is an intriguing look at how simply actions, both positive and negative, can have horrific effects on those around us. This family allegedly treats someone so poorly the girl was driven to suicide. But does that make them responsible, or does that just mean they were a part of a cumulative effect they could never see coming? It's a wake-up call when Inspector Goole stops the show and addresses the audience directly by explaining just how our behavior can affect others.

Having seen this just days after America began to crucify a fifteen-year old boy for perceived "smugness," you can place the events of this play squarely on the shoulders of our society. It strikes at the heart of our lack of empathy, our lack of compassion, and our rush to deny people respect in order to satisfy our own needs or opinions.

Written in 1946, this play couldn't be more relevant. And with the expert performances by every member of the cast and stunning set design by Ian MacNeil, it couldn't be more lovely to witness.

"An Inspector Calls" plays through February 10 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. For tickets and information, visit their website.

For more information on the production's American tour, visit the show's website

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.