As Sybil Birling, Susan Kellermann perpetuates her character's blue-blooded pretensions through rock-hard condescension that begins to crack only when she can no longer deny the profligacy of her son Eric. Harry Carnahan, the only holdover from the Broadway cast, at first plays wayward Eric with a dissolute glee that suggests this disappointing son of a successful father will never grow up; when Eric confronts a sobering reality, however, Carnahan turns the spoiled boy into sterner stuff. Philip LeStrange plays father Arthur with a convincing mix of arrogance -- when things are going the way the character wishes -- and defensiveness -- when Arthur's social position seems threatened. As the enigmatic Inspector Goole, Sam Tsoutsouvas comes across as a well-groomed British version of television detective Columbo, bypassing good manners in order to wheedle out the truth. David Andrew MacDonald cuts a natty figure as daughter Sheila's fiance, Gerald Croft. And, playing Sheila, Jane Fleiss delivers an illuminating performance. Radicalized by her family's revelations, Fleiss's Sheila lays down her sense of entitlement at the same time as she lays bare her character. In the moment that Sheila insists "we aren't the same people who sat down to dinner," we know that her family will recover its supercilious composure quite nicely, thank you, while Sheila will never be the same again.

Daldry and MacNeil's coup de theatre just might set a new standard for revivals. Because time-tested vehicles pack the house, theaters from London to New York to South Florida insist on bringing back tried-and-true pieces, often at the expense of experimenting with new or rarely seen plays. This reinvigoration of An Inspector Calls confirms that theaters, directors, and designers can do more than merely dust off a production before remounting it. Reconceiving a show from a different or more profound point of view allows us to experience the work as something fresh.

Stage Notes
If you received a flyer for performance artist Mark Dendy's one-man show Bus Ride to Heaven (playing at the Colony Theater through the end of this weekend), you'll notice the show is being presented by Acme Acting Company. And if you read the fine print under Acme's logo at the top of the flyer, you'll also notice that the company is celebrating its tenth anniversary this season.

Founded by Juan Cejas and Eric Fliss, Acme debuted with Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead in the 1986-87 season. But the most recent Acme production before Bus Ride was the well-received Jeffrey, mounted in the summer of 1994 A a year-and-a-half gap. And when artistic director Cejas resigned his post in December 1994 to pursue other projects, it looked as if Acme, like so many other small and struggling companies, had expired. However, current artistic director Betsy Cardwell puts such ugly rumors to rest when she notes, "I prefer to say we took a sabbatical."

An Acme member since the company's inception, Cardwell joined the theater as a lighting designer but soon found herself in the role of a prostitute in Balm when the actor scheduled to play the part had to bow out at the last minute. "Juan never gave me another opportunity to act," Cardwell remembers with a laugh. Instead she went on to assume various administrative duties, finally becoming a producer. After Cejas left, Cardwell took over his job, she says, because "I didn't feel it [Acme] was quite dead yet." Accordingly, she adds, over the past year she has been "totally regrouping, building up the acting ensemble, trying to raise money quietly, pay off a few debts -- just generally plan and learn."

By launching Acme's tenth anniversary season with a touring production, Cardwell hopes to accomplish three things: Get the company's name back in circulation, raise needed funds, and present the work of Dendy, a performer she met when they were both students at North Carolina School of the Arts. "It's a real joy for me to bring in Mark," she states. "He's a great writer, choreographer, actor. He's one of those people who can do everything."

Future Acme plans include a March production of David Ives's All in the Timing and James Bosley's Fun sometime later in the spring. And by 1997, Cardwell explains, "I really want to take the company into doing original plays only." In the meantime, she reports, "We have the same problems every small company has. We're somewhat financially strapped. And we're homeless. But company morale has never been higher, and we're very excited to do our tenth season.

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