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Every season a group of High School students participate in STC’s Teen Critic program. These students attend the productions, participate in workshops and craft critical reviews reflecting their unique perspectives on the performances. Fourteen young critics are participating in this year’s program and below are excerpts from their reviews.
Click here to find out more about the Teen Critic program.
Lauren Xu, 11th grade, BASIS DC, D.C.
Rain pours down on a dark cobblestone street as it fills up with eerie fog grasping at the audience, aiming to envelope them in misty coldness. One lone lighted house breaks up the street, planted firmly in its foundations. So opens An Inspector Calls, another stunning work of Stephen Daldry, director of Billy Elliot and The Crown.
Jocie Mintz, 10th grade, Walter Whitman High School, MD
Set in 1912, this play’s plot is deceptively simple. It follows two separate worlds—the rich and the poor—and their inevitable collision course. The rich world consists of the Birling family, a spoiled, first-class group of people constantly at odds with one another. The poor world consists of penniless children, working-class men and women—all silent throughout the show. The rich world is tawdry, adorned with ball gowns and chandeliers. The poor world comes in muted colors, faded into the background. An emotional, quick-talking, Scottish inspector (Liam Brennan) enters the lives of the Birling’s to investigate their possible connections to the suicide of a working class woman, Eva Smith. And with the calling of the inspector comes an entertaining, thought-provoking union of two separate classes.
Anna Brosowsky, 10th grade, DC International School, D.C.
The cast works like a well-oiled machine to grab your attention during this powerhouse of a show and demonstrates just how pertinent the story still is. It is both depressing and inspiring that there is a true timelessness and power to this story that will never not be current and has continued to touch audiences since the mid-1940s. We as a society still grapple with class, family, responsibility, and relationships, the likes of which are continuously touched on throughout this classic. It becomes even more relevant today being staged in times of contentious midterm elections, and the constant debate of workplace, racial, religious and class based inequalities. For those reasons alone, this brilliant and awe-inspiring thriller is not to be missed.
Adam Winchenbach, 11th grade, Richard Montgomery High School, MD
To say that the scenery set the tone for the rest of the production, would truly be saying the least, however, in this case the scenery was the production. With no other space to go to outside of the damp street corner, any other production would be facing major difficulties in keeping the audience’s interest. This production, however, was able to keep their audience always fastened to the edge of their seat. The secret behind this success is one concept the director seemed to have perfectly grasped that is simply said, yet difficult to put into practice; superb acting. Another aspect of the production that kept audiences invested was the manipulation of the mood through the music. Though seemingly being played from an old-timey radio, the music surrounded every word that was said on stage in whatever aura it chose, be it mystery, comedy, or drama. This combination of audible mediums, rather than the more regularly used flashy visual crutches, gave the production a feeling of well-deserved importance and stature.
Hana O’Looney, 9th grade, Richard Montgomery High School, MD
…the stunning stage design by Ian MacNeil, complete with sheets of rain, a cobblestone street, and fog, all of the high-tech elements of the set were meticulously crafted into an experience that mimicked a Disney ride without all of the artificialness. The dollhouse-like Edwardian home of the Birling’s’ was placed on stilts and transformed through an earthquake tipping the house over halfway through the show, a truly surreal sight to see. The set also served as an abstract of the themes in the play, with two very disparate worlds presented through the interior and exterior of the house. The audience first watches the Birling’s’ at their aristocratic dinner party through the windows looking in, but when the inspector calls, the home opens and the family is forced outside. The actors’ interactions with the set and props, including the stage curtains, a vintage radio, and a telephone booth, allowed the third act of the performance to transcend the stage.
Maggie Wang, 12th grade, National Cathedral School, D.C.
The cast of Daldry’s An Inspector Calls is almost uniformly superb. Liam Brennan, as Inspector Goole, gives the production a serious, down-to-earth tone. His character is a stark contrast to the aristocratic and showy Mr. and Mrs. Birling, played with excellent taste by Jeff Harmer and Christine Kavanagh, respectively. Lianne Harvey portrays Sheila Birling’s transformation from innocence to perspicacity with nuance, empathy, and humor. Andrew Macklin is commanding and candid as Gerald Croft, Sheila’s fiancé, and Hamish Riddle is engaging, though perhaps a bit overdramatic, as Eric Birling, Sheila’s brother.
Mary-Kate Wilson, 11th grade, Washington Latin Public Charter, D.C.
As Sheila witnesses the case unfurl before her, she physically steps farther away from the house. She separates herself to the fringe as she urges her family to be honest with Inspector Goole. In her separation, Sheila realizes the tactics of the Inspector before the rest of her family, and shows empathy for the dead girl before anyone else.
Emma Shacochis, 12th grade, Oakton High School, VA
As the recently engaged Sheila, Lianne Harvey shows excellent growth from her initial characterization as a typical young, spoiled girl. Once Sheila realizes the Inspector’s clever tricks for causing the family to out their secrets, Harvey’s emotional, pained pleas expertly show her desperation to warn the family to stay quiet. Similarly, Christine Kavanagh as matriarch Mrs. Birling initially appears to offer levity through her icy condescension (a red carpet is rolled out for her); but Kavanagh becomes equally riveting and wrenching when she collapses to the pavement, realizing her involvement in the young woman’s death.
Mallory Bedford, 12th grade, Chantilly High School, VA
The divisions in the play are quite easy to spot but they are still beautifully displayed through stunning stage picture, what parts of the stage are lit which parts are left dark, and the stark contrast in the morality of each family member as the curtain closes. Stephen Daldry’s production is anything but subtle yet the presentation of these themes is well crafted and never feels forced. This is aided by Liam Brennan’s Inspector Goole, who commands the story on stage. There are even times when it feels as if Inspector Goole could command the world beyond the stage– the use of the house as an extension of the stage during certain points only helped to establish his mystical presence. Brennan’s control over the character provides the needed bridge between the words of J.B. Priestly and Daldry’s interpretation
Olivia Roark, 10th grade, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, MD
And not only is the story at its core gripping, but the real stars of the show are all the other aspects of the production and the way they work together to create a strikingly eerie ambiance that is perfectly suited for a murder mystery, even if it’s an unconventional one. There’s rain and smoke and fog and the sound designer, Sebastian Frost’s, deep, dramatic noises interspersed throughout the play, adding to the suspense and creating the mood world in which the show takes place. The scintillating skill with which the production is executed is clear in every pointed, thought-provoking detail.
Max Tankersley, 12th grade, Washington-Lee High School, VA
…the following sequence was by far the most powerful of the night. Inspector Goole, played by Liam Brennan came to downstage center with the Younger Boy who held the inspector’s hat against his chest as the Inspector delivered his final monologue directly to the audience. As he addressed the fact that even though one Eva Smith was gone, there were million more that needed help if we were not to collapse as a society, I could not help but think of the tear gas attacks against immigrants on our southern border that were reported that very morning. No director could have predicted that kind of outrageous event but clearly the theater saw the signs as our country committed atrocious acts against those seeking help, just as the Birling’s did. This show is worth seeing because it proves that we as a country need to learn from our mistakes immediately, or our house will collapse too.
An Inspector Calls is now playing until December 23.