'An Inspector Calls' brings a case to conclusion
"We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish."
The words of Inspector Goole, played with a convincing sense of mystery by Keith Pannell, lodged themselves in my mind as I watched Lawton Community Theatre's opening night of "An Inspector Calls" come to its conclusion.
"An Inspector Calls" stands as playwright J.B. Priestley's most renowned work.
Priestley, who served in England during World War I, wrote the play in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
Set in the years before the war, the play is a multilayered exploration of guilt, class and the battle between the forces of capitalism and socialism that would eventually lead to the upheaval of the Western world.
The plot centers around the death of a young working-class girl who has committed suicide. The Birling family is gathered to celebrate the engagement of Sheila Birling, played by Cassie Jones, to Gerald Croft, played by Devin Dorsey, when a police inspector arrives to upend their celebrations.
Addressing each character individually throughout the play's three acts, the inspector recounts how each member of the Birling family was culpable in the death of the young girl.
The family finds out that the young girl has killed herself by drinking disinfectant. It's a fact that becomes increasingly hard for Shelia to bear as the inspector describes the way the chemicals "burned the poor girl inside out." It's a fitting show of symbolism, as the inspector, too, has come to burn the truth out of the Birling family from the inside.
The events of "An Inspector Calls" take place over the course of a single evening, and revelations sometimes come at a strikingly quick pace. But the inspector's insistence that each line of questioning be relegated to a single individual keeps the audience from becoming too caught up in multiple plotlines.
It takes a seasoned cast and crew to successfully execute the pace of this play, and, despite some opening night jitters, LCT pulled it off with remarkable precision.
Costumes and sets are often just as important to understating a play as the actor's performances. And the production team has done a remarkable job in that regard. Despite the play's events unfolding in a single room, the set never feels claustrophobic. The design crew makes good use of space by allowing the furniture breathing room; nothing sits too close to anything else. The actors move about the stage interacting with pieces of the set in ways that feel natural. An actor will take a drink or lean against a chair, giving the audience the illusion that the space is familiar to them, that it is lived in.
The costumes, designed by Barbara Hunter, reflect the characters' societal status and nature. The Birlings are dressed head to toe in finery, while the inspector appears in a ragtag overcoat, hinting at his mysterious nature. The maid, played by the reserved Amy Kruscavage, is dressed so darkly she appears almost as a set piece.