‘A mystery with a message’

SMSU Theatre production of “An Inspector Calls” opens next week

An engagement celebration at a wealthy family’s home sets the stage for the action of “An Inspector Calls,” which opens April 10 at the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre. Here, Gerald Croft, played by Alexander Duus, proposes to Sheila Birling, played by Priscilla Muehr. Arthur Birling, played by Jim Radloff, looks on.

MARSHALL — The mystery at the heart of Southwest Minnesota State University’s spring theatre production is one that will keep audience members guessing, cast members said.

“When you think you have it figured out, you don’t,” said SMSU senior Colton Jensen.

The SMSU Theatre Program will be performing “An Inspector Calls,” by J.B. Priestly, April 10-14. The play takes a different perspective on a mystery story, cast and crew members said this week.

“It’s a murder mystery where we know who is dead, but we don’t necessarily know why they’re dead,” said cast member and SMSU alumnus Jim Radloff.

The story of “An Inspector Calls” also examines themes like divisions in society, and how our actions affect others, said director Nadine Purvis Schmidt. “It’s a mystery with a message,” she said.

“An Inspector Calls” is set in 1912, at the home of the well-to-do Birling family in England. A family gathering is interrupted by the arrival of Inspector Goole, who questions the Birlings about the death of a young woman.

“He is a little bit of a mystery himself,” said SMSU alumnus Jordan Stangeland, who plays Inspector Goole. The Inspector doesn’t really care about class or titles, Stangeland said. “He wants people to own up to their crimes.”

Getting into Goole’s mindset of setting people up to confess was “a fun challenge,” Stangeland said.

As Goole interrogates the Birlings and their connections to the dead woman are revealed, the family members are confronted with the impacts of their actions.

Characters’ relationships, conflicts and social roles all come into play as the mystery unfolds, cast members said. The Birling clan includes conservative parents Arthur and Sybil Birling, their adult children Sheila and Eric, and Sheila’s fiance Gerald Croft.

“The different dynamics between the characters are kind of the core of the whole thing,” said SMSU senior Alexander Duus, who plays Gerald.

First-year student Priscilla Muehr, who plays Sheila Birling, said she felt there was “a lot of symbolism” in the characters’ words, as well as the roles they play.

Cast members said the play deals with issues that are still timely today, including the different ways that society creates divisions between people.

“There’s a lot of class imbalance, and it kind of explores how the upper class tends to take advantage of the lower class,” Stangeland said.

Generational differences also come into play in “An Inspector Calls,” Jensen said. “The young people are thinking in a much different way than the older generation,” he said.

Schmidt said the audience will also get a chance to reflect on the play’s messages, and weigh in. At different points, they’ll be able to answer poll questions about the story with the help of a QR code that can be scanned with a phone.

Performances of “An Inspector Calls” will be at 7:30 p.m. April 10-13, and at 2 p.m. on April 14, at the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre. Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door. Admission is free for SMSU employees and students with a valid ID.


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