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“An Inspector Calls” at American Coast Theater Company

From Left: Gabrielle Paul and Dane Hobrecht (Photo by Kendra Barnhart)

A gripping thriller, boldly reimagined

By Anne Reid

"An Inspector Calls" by J.B. Priestley (1945) is a thought-provoking play set in 1912 Edwardian England. The story unfolds in the prosperous household of the Birling family, who are celebrating their daughter Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft, the son of a wealthy industrialist. 

The plot takes a dramatic turn when an unexpected visitor, Inspector Goole, arrives to interrogate the family regarding the suicide of a young working-class woman. Through his probing questions and revelations, Inspector Goole exposes the Birlings' responsibility and collective guilt. Each family member is implicated in the woman’s tragic story, having contributed to her downfall through their callous actions and indifference to her plight.

Tension arises as the play unfolds with the characters grappling with their culpability and attempting to deflect blame onto each other. Inspector Goole serves as a moral compass, challenging the Birlings' sense of entitlement and highlighting the stark inequalities of society. 

"An Inspector Calls" is not only a critique of the Edwardian class system but also a timeless exploration of morality and the consequences of individual actions. Priestley uses the device of the inspector's omniscience to underscore the interconnectedness of human lives and the importance of empathy and compassion. 

The play is a powerful call to action disguised as a "drawing-room" whodunit. “I have always been drawn to the play’s clear and direct message,” says Director Connor Berkompas. He clarifies that it’s the author’s way of telling people, “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other." While the play’s transparency and clarity of intention feel refreshing today, Berkompas is excited for Orange County audiences to experience this work, calling it surprising, unsettling, and incredibly moving.

From Left: Julia Flores and Linda Sutera (Photo by Kendra Barnhart)

The gripping play is a frank critique of the ways we reject our humanity in a capitalistic, individual-centered society. It has a lot to say, but it’s also a captivating thriller. “My favorite part of the play is its treatment of the younger characters. They are the heart of the story and offer the hope of individual transformation and collective change,” said Berkompas.

“I chose to produce “An Inspector Calls” because I had seen the BBC film and was mesmerized by the story. I figured it would be just another British whodunit murder mystery. Boy, was I wrong!” said Susan Berkompas, Artistic Producing Director for American Coast Theater Company (ACTC), and chair of the Department of Theatre Arts at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. “This is the perfect time in our modern-day culture to bring out this gem. We can’t forget our global and community responsibility to each other.”

Susan Berkompas, who happens to be Connor’s mother, says they love working together. Last summer they co-directed ACTC’s “Around the World in 80 Days.” He also directed “Macbeth” and “Sigh No More” for ACTC as well as “All Shook Up” for Vanguard University’s Theatre Arts department, all in the Lyceum Theater. He recently relocated to the Twin Cities after living and making theatre in Montana for the last three years with his own company Nervous Theatre

“The Lyceum Theater is the perfect setting for our reimagining of this play,” said Connor Berkompas. “The intimacy of the space allows us to capitalize on the audience’s presence. We’re creating an experience for them where they get to discover this story and then, ultimately, each other. I am excited to utilize the Lyceum stage in a way that our audience members may not be used to.”

The Cast of 'An Inspector Calls' at American Coast Theater Company in Rehearsal (Photo by Kendra Barnhart)

“I’m grateful to be back in California and to be asked to direct this production of one of my favorite plays in one of my favorite places,” Connor said. “I've wanted to direct this play for many years now. The play explores our relationship to community and to each other in a way that deeply resonates with me and (hopefully!) will resonate with our Orange County audiences.” He approached his mom about directing it for ACTC, and she was equally enthusiastic about the idea.  “My hope is to dust off this classic story and bring it resolutely into our present moment,” he said.

According to Connor, the cast is bonkers. “I'm beyond excited to work with the wildly talented ensemble we've assembled for ‘An Inspector Calls.’ For the most part, they are all new to me, which I love! A room full of unfamiliar artists offers so many possibilities. The only actor I've worked with before is Ryan Miller, who plays our Inspector. Ryan is a brilliant theatre-maker and performer who has appeared on the Lyceum stage many times. I'm thrilled and honored that he's a part of this production,” said Connor. Miller is a Vanguard University alumnus and current Director of the Musical Theater Conservatory at the Orange County School of the Arts.

Anne Reid is a writer, public & community relations expert, and theatre mom.

“An Inspector Calls”

American Coast Theater Company

In residence at Vanguard University

55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 

June 21 –  30, 2024

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