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September 24, 2008 > An uneven inspector calls at Morrison Theatre

An uneven inspector calls at Morrison Theatre

By Julie Grabowski

How responsible are we for the course of a life? Is this existence a singular journey or a group effort? These are the questions that lie at the heart of J.B. Priestley's dark and revealing "An Inspector Calls" playing through October 5 at Douglas Morrisson Theatre.

It is the spring of 1912 in the industrial city of Brumley, England where the Birling family has gathered in their elegant dining room to celebrate the engagement of daughter Sheila. But the good humor of the evening is interrupted by the arrival of a police inspector who has come to question them about the suicide of a young girl. As the interrogation proceeds, it is revealed that everyone in the room had a connection to the girl and according to the Inspector, bears some responsibility for her tragic end. After the shameful actions have been exposed, happy unity turns to division and after the Inspector has gone, questions arise about the validity of his claim as policeman and if a death has actually occurred.

Priestley has constructed an artful story built from the basest blocks of humanity including love of money, jealousy, blame, class division, concern for public reputation, and selfishness. It is a battle of responsibility where Arthur Birling instructs, "A man has to mind his own business," and the Inspector admonishes, "We don't live alone," that the chance for happiness in life depends upon each other. Despite the compelling themes and good message, the production never really manages to fully engage. The men come off as artificial and unconvincing, save Kip Wixson as the Inspector, who conveys warmth, humor, and general likeability. The women are in solid possession of their characters and provide the lifeblood of the show. Catherine Bucher is spot on as the haughty and proud Mrs. Birling, while Kate Purnell is fluid and strong as the insightful and remorseful Sheila.

George Ledo's set design is pleasing and elegant, and perfectly suited to the story. The sound effects, however, are more distracting than enhancing: periodic rumbles of thunder and soft eerie chimes seem disconnected and surprising on arrival. The chimes may be intended to inject an air of mystery and underline the press of time, but it took three or four times hearing them to realize it wasn't an audience member's cell phone.

DMT's "An Inspector Calls" is at times a stumbling evening but it isn't without reward. The audience is challenged to consider their own behavior, the impact their actions have on others, and whether true compassion lies within them. We should strive to make reparation where we can and avoid the fate of the Birlings who cannot mend their damages. As Priestley's fellow British writer Berkely Mather agrees, "We are all involved in the destiny of others...and a man may not stand by and watch another destroy himself."

Tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors 60 and over, $12 for juniors and students with ID, and $10 for TBA members. For tickets or more information call (510) 881-6777 or visit the theatre online at

An Inspector Calls
September 19 - October 5
Thursday - Saturday: 8 p.m. (Sundays 2 p.m.)
Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22311 North Third Street, Hayward
(510) 881-6777
Tickets: $12-$22

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