Bad can be so good.
Especially in Arizona Repertory Theatre Company's production of Daniel Sullivan's "Inspecting Carol," which opened Wednesday.
The 1991 play is a mix of Dickens' "Scrooge," Nikolai Gogol's "Inspector General" and Christopher Guest's "Waiting for Guffman."
A small theater company is preparing its annual production of "A Christmas Carol." But there are a few problems, such as a lead who wants to change the ending, question Tiny Tim's sexuality and deliver some of his lines in Spanish (Robert Don Mower nailed his portrayal of the self-possessed actor with a giant ego).
There's the actor who plays the ghosts of Christmas past and future in this backstage comedy. The lines have been changed so frequently that he can't remember any of them (Kendrick Stallings was deliciously befuddled in the role).
And an older, married couple who believe over-the-top is not over-the-top enough (Brenna Wagner and Frank Camp were a complete hoot).
And an actor with stalker-esque qualities (Taylor Rascher was the perfect frustrated actor/lover wannabe).
The characters are all bad actors. And it takes good ones to play bad so well.
This production, directed with a fast pace and an obvious love of farce by David Morden, is packed with student actors who reveled in their characters. They were having such a terrific time and made us laugh so much at Wednesday's opening it was easy to overlook the bad jokes, easy potshots, stock characters and lame plot.
What saves this play - a kick when it first opened in the last century but doesn't hold up so well these days - is the obvious joy the actors (the real ones, not the characters) have on stage.
The plot is this: The theater is broke, very broke, as it prepares its annual production of "A Christmas Carol." The National Endowment for the Arts has threatened to cut off funding and is sending out an inspector to gauge the company's artistic quality. About this time, Wayne Wellacre (I kid you not) pops into the theater. He has taken his data-processing job as far as he can, and now he has decided to be an actor.
Cody Davis rocked in the role; his version of the "Now is the winter of our discontent …" soliloquy is one of the funniest moments of the play.
Zorah Bloch (given a frenzied order by Georgia Harrison), one of the founders of the company and its artistic director, decides that this Wayne guy is the NEA inspector popping in undercover.
Here's the thing about farce like this: The actors have to possess these characters, love them and play them honestly. If they mock them, or play them for laughs, it doesn't work.
This works. The whole cast dove into this farce with the same kind of dedication they would dive into something like "Long Day's Journey Into Night."
Morden knows that the key to effective farce is solid timing, and he made sure the actors had it.
Sure, "Inspecting Carol" may be past its prime, but you'd never know it thanks to the energy and heart these students poured into this production.
• What: Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of "Inspecting Carol."
• Playwright: Daniel J. Sullivan.
• Director: David Morden.
• When: 1:30 p.m. today, Saturday and next Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Continues through Dec. 2.
• Where: Tornabene Theatre in the University of Arizona Fine Arts Complex, North Park Avenue and East Speedway.
• Tickets: $28, with discounts available.
• Reservations/information: 621-1162 or tickets.arizona.edu
• Running time: About two hours, with one intermission.