BWW Review: THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR Bribes Russia at Classical Theatre Company
I've never heard much about Russian farce, but certainly Nikolai Gogol's THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR is an iconic entry in theater history. It was banned initially, but incredibly autocratic Czar Nicholas read the work and decided he approved. It had made him laugh despite poking fun at him and his sycophantic staff. The show is about a rather inconsequential clerk being mistaken for a high ranking government official and taking full advantage of inept bureaucrats who are easily fooled and fleeced for money. The Classical Theatre Company has chosen this zany trip into slamming doors and fake beards as counterpoint to their previous dark rendition of Ibsen's AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. They could not get any further away from there and go full tilt boogie into physical buffoonery.
This production is like watching a live action cartoon come to life with ill-fitting primary colored suits that are far too large and ridiculous rabbit fur coats on display. The set, the clothes, the lights, the sound design, and the actors themselves paint large and bold throughout and keep everything at a raucous fevered pitch. Doors slam, people take pratfalls, sofas are climbed during conversations, and nothing is remotely subtle for two and a half hours. The actors must be reduced to exhausted heaps after each show, and the audience just might find it equally as taxing. It all depends on your tolerance and love of farcical acting and campy delivery.
Props should go to Tom Long who plays the governor, as well as to Dain Geist who is the one who takes advantage of his error. Together they have to keep the proverbial balls in the air throughout and maintain the manic pacing. Geist uses everything in his physical arsenal including walking on couches and lunging at certain players when the time is right. He seems to be having a ball conning the unsuspecting government officials. Long is on the receiving end of the stick, and he manages to play off being harried and hysterical. He literally resorts to ripping his own hair out at the roots during the play's climax.
The entire ensemble is game to join in on the shenanigans afoot. They start to resemble current cabinet members of our own country as they frantically strive to create "alternative facts" about their education system and healthcare. It's certainly a silly affair overall, but Gogol's satire still has sting when you think about the implications of the current political climate. Perhaps it is no mistake the Governor is outfitted in mostly orange or that his education head looks suspiciously like Betsy Devos. I loved all the actors, and they each bring so much energy to the table. I particularly enjoyed Brittny Bush as Anna. She gives an exotic flair to her role, and hits the right notes as the Governor's boy crazy wife. Matthew Keenan as Osip is also a smart choice as he brings his own foreign flair to the proceedings.
If you're fan of farce, and truly love the physical comedy of the genre then director Philip Hays has tailor-made this one for you. It's nice to see the Classical Theatre Company let their hair down and play it for yuks with a change of pace. It's rather silly, but has a sly approach as well when you get down to the ultimate implications. THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR is a fluffy piece, but has real bite when we look across at our current state of political officials. It almost hurts to laugh so hard at the Russians.
The Government Inspector plays at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m. The show runs through April 29 at Classical Theatre Company, 4617 Montrose Boulevard. For tickets or further information, call 713-963-9665 or visit classicaltheatre.org.