|THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR|
Imagine a government where bribery, corruption and unbelievable stupidity are the norm? Oh right, we don’t have to, and not just because of the current occupants of Washington D.C. Russian playwright Nikolai Gogol put forth just such a scenario in his outrageous 1835 comedy, “The Government Inspector,” which is being given an exuberantly raucous revival by Red Bull Theatre at the Duke on 42nd Street. If you don’t find yourself guffawing out loud at least once or twice during this show, check to make sure your vocal cords are still intact.
While the talented contemporary playwright Jeffrey Hatcher might well have been tempted to reset the show in our nation’s capital, he’s kept the work firmly in its homeland (although the characters do speak in a 21st-century vernacular), letting its innate satiric heart show through its comic exterior.
Meanwhile, director Jesse Berger has assembled some of the most physically and verbally dexterous performers around to act out this fable/cautionary tale on Alexis Distler’s exceedingly clever set. This tremendously talented troupe is led by the wiry, wily Michael Urie as Ivan, an unemployed, vain and selfish low-level bureaucrat whom we first meet planning to kill himself (if he can ever look away from his mirror) rather than face his debts or his clearly disappointed father.
Luckily for him, two not-so-bright local landowners (the delightfully annoying Ryan Garbayo and Ben Mehl) come to believe he’s a mysterious “government inspector” who has arrived to clean up the town. Almost immediately, Ivan’s circumstances take a turn for the better, as he is being given money and treated with honor by the town’s less-than-honorable mayor, Anton Antonovich (the brilliantly blustery Michael McGrath), who invites him to stay at his home.
There, the confused but happy Ivan – accompanied by his less-than-polished servant Osip (the invaluable Arnie Burton, who marvelously doubles as the fey local postmaster) – must deal with the town’s unctuous higher-ups, unhappy merchants, and mistreated miscreants, all of whom want his attention, forgiveness, or favoritism. (They’re smartly portrayed by Tom Allan Robbins, David Manis, Stephen DeRosa, Mary Lou Rosato, James Rana, Kelly Hutchinson and Luis Moreno).
Moreover, Ivan quickly becomes the romantic target of both Anton’s preening wife Anna (the delectable, scene-stealing Mary Testa) and his seemingly cold-hearted yet surprisingly hot-blooded daughter Marya (a very effective Talene Monahan) – and, unsurprisingly, he succumbs to their advances (primarily to win a bet with Osip.)
Borrowing equally from the Marx Brothers and the Ringling Brothers, Berger’s staging is often daring and consistently hilarious. Urie’s drunk scene (late in Act I) is among the best I’ve ever seen onstage. And once he sobers up, the shenanigans happily continue. There’s even a moment or two where you might realistically fear for Urie’s well-being; let’s just say that it’s not only sanity and common sense that nearly gets thrown out a window here!
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Michael Urie, Arnie Burton, Stephen DeRosa, Michael McGrath, Mary Testa, Ryan Garbayo, Kelly Hutchinson, David Manis, Ben Mehl, Talene Monahon, Luis Moreno, James Rana, Tom Alan Robbins, Mary Lou Rosato
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019