The Government Inspector: Far More Than Just Three Stooges in Russia.
Who knew that a play first published in 1836 by a Russian and Ukrainian dramatist by the name of Nikolai Gogol could be so current and hysterically funny today. The Government Inspector written as a satirical play so many years ago skewering corrupt politicians and landowners was not written, I’m assuming, as it was presented by Red Bull Theater at The Duke on 42nd Street. The ideas that this production present seem as relevant today as they must have been back in old Russia. Multi-layered, with a madcap direction by Jesse Berger (Founding Artistic Director of Red Bull Theater), this comedy of errors centers on a backwater Russian town’s Mayor, Anton Antonovich, the hilariously intense Michael McGrath (The Front Page). He mistakenly identifies the irresponsible narcissist, Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov, played with a preening charm by the absolutely adorable Michael Urie (Buyer and Cellar), as the incognito Government Inspector that is rumored to be arriving into town. To say that The Government Inspector makes a contemporary comment on our political environment would be as simplistic as one could be in explaining this satire. This play, although hilariously simple in it’s setup, is quite devilish in it’s taking down of politicians and their like. Jeffrey Hatcher, the man responsible for this brilliant adaption states, “Audiences can see the contemporary versions of Gogol’s mayor and his cohorts every minute of the day on television, so they’ll have no problem making the connection between an 1830’s Russian backwater and a House of Representatives oversight committee”.
Michael Urie couldn’t be more appealing in this silly but very funny play, satirizing human greed, stupidity, and the political corruption of all the powers that be in this Russian town. Hlestakov as the man they wrongfully believe to be that Inspector personifies all that is irresponsibility, self-absorbed, and arrogant, with the absence of any measure of shame or guilt. He gladly goes along with the outpouring of bribes and shameless kindness being granted on this hopelessly broke gambler who has visions of grandeur. Finding himself in a financial pickle of a predicament, penniless from luckless gambling, and owing the innkeeper a fair amount of rubles, Hlestakov finally gets a dash of luck when the Mayor and the two ridiculous landowner twins (who aren’t related), Bobehinsky and Dobchinsky, played by the Three Stooges-like pair, Ryan Garbayo and Ben Miehl, show up trying to save their corrupt skins from being written up, found out, and sent away to prison. They quickly pay Hlestakov’s debt and move him to the Mayor’s House where he will be wined and dined until he gives them and the town a positive review.
Layered up on top of each other with the wondrous set by Alexis Distler, costumes by Tilly Grimes, and lighting by Megan Land and Peter West, The Government Inspector has the best time introducing us to all the town officials: the Judge (Tom Alan Robbins), the School Principal (David Manis), the Hospital Director (Stephen Derosa), and the Doctor (James Rana); the Mayor’s household: Anna Andreyevan, his wife (the magnificent Mary Testa), Marya Antonovna, their daughter (the wonderful Talene Monahon) and their maid, Grusha (Mary Lou Rosato); and an assortment of others: the Police chief (Luis Moreno), merchants and peasants (Robbins, Manis, Derosa, Rosato, all playing double duty, and the very funny Kelly Hutchinson, who also is the Innkeeper’s Wife). The magnificent creation of a love poem by Urie’s ridiculous cad to the Mayor’s daughter is one of the funniest bits of stupidity around, and I mean that in the nicest of possibly ways. It, like the play itself, is just plain joyful.
Beyond McGrath and Urie, the other standout is the hilarious Postmaster, played by the utterly fantastic Arnie Burton (Red Bull’s The Mystery of Irma Vep) who also does a great job playing Osip, Hlestakov’s wry and sarcastic servant. I think I covered them all, as the impressive cast is large and hilarious in a ‘Mr Bean‘ kind of way. They almost fall over themselves in this silly and ridiculous play, but in all the right kind of ways. The most fun I’ve had at the theatre since the equally madcap The Play That Goes Wrong. That West End to Broadway transfer had me laughing from beginning to end, but what The Government Inspector has that The Play… doesn’t is a contemporary significance and bite to the time we all live in. Trumpland doesn’t seem so far from this provincial Russian town, circa 1836,. Sad, but also hilariously on target.