Christmas might be months away, but the yuletide is in full swing at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks, and it’s time to make merry. Inspecting Carol, directed by Kirsten Chandler and produced by Panic! Productions, is onstage through Sept. 23.

Playwright Daniel Sullivan’s farce is about a small theater company that’s in the midst of rehearsing its umpteenth production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The play-within-a-play’s frazzled director is Zorah (played by an earnest Cindy Pearl). Surrounded by an eccentric cast, Zorah desperately tries to corral their quirks, outbursts and last-minute “tweaks” in time for opening night.

As if getting the show on the road isn’t enough of a circus, Kevin, the company’s money man (played by the funny Barry Pearl), tells Zorah the company’s broke. Their only hope is to impress an inspector from the National Endowment for the Arts who will decide whether the company keeps its funding.

In walks a wannabe actor named Wayne Wellacre (the wonderful Sean Spence), who hopes to earn a spot in the company. Kevin is convinced that Wayne is the NEA inspector in disguise and sets off a panic that spreads through the company faster than you can say, “surplus population.” Wayne is given the star treatment and the entire company falls over itself (sometimes literally) to impress him. Will the company be able to save itself, in spite of itself?

Highlights of the production include Ron Rezac’s crotchety Bob Cratchit and J. Bailey Burcham’s highly strung Scrooge, as well as Dan Tullis Jr.’s Christmas Ghost with stage fright and Paul Panico’s slapstick turn as Marley’s ghost. Vivien Latham is charming as the voice coach who introduces a very interesting vocal exercise involving a body part and an imaginary lemon. Rounding out the cast nicely are Melissa Strauss, Marcello Silva, Sam Herbert and Nora Kulkarni. A treat during intermission is a fun performance by carol singers.

Joined by lighting designer Shara Abvabi, costume designer Barbara Mazeika and stage manager Tawni Eccles, Kirsten Chandler leads a team that has a ball injecting some holiday silliness into the waning days of summer.

Inspecting Carol through Sept. 23 at Hillcrest Center for the Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. For tickets and more information, call 805-381-1246 or visit