NEW YORK—When the citizens of a provincial town in 19th century Russia get wind of an imminent visit by a major government official, visiting incognito for the purpose of evaluating their social and political behaviors, the people are thrown into a tizzy. They realize they must put their best foot forward.
The stress accorded by this visit tends to bring out their most intense behaviors—oddly, not always the most socially acceptable ones. At least not to us, the possibly self-righteous and superior men and women in the audience.
As created by noted Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, and in its current adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, now presented by the Red Bull Theater, the characters are a jumble of foibles and inadequacies.
The leader of the pack, so to speak, is the mayor, Anton Antonovich (Michael McGrath), who tries to get a handle on things and get everything and everyone in order for the impending visit.
Of great help in figuring out who the important visitor will be, is the Postmaster (Arnie Burton), who might be termed the chief intelligence officer. Not only does The Postmaster know who’s getting mail, he knows the contents of every letter because he reads them before delivering them. It is his “informed” opinion that visitor Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestekov (Michael Urie) is the official performing the investigation.
This assessment leads to the city’s higher-ups honoring Ivan with just about any offer that can be bestowed, including lots of rubles, food, and drink. Urie’s drunk scene is a highpoint of the production, as he lumbers about the stage, almost vomits, falls, recovers himself, and ends up dangling from the edge of the stage with the silliest expression on his face.
Those of us lucky enough to have viewed the great physical comedy performance this season by Kevin Kline in “Present Laughter” now have the privilege of viewing a second such remarkable performance by Urie.
As Anna Andreyevna, the mayor’s wife, Mary Testa looks every bit the unlovely but egotistically secure woman who never doubts her charms as she flirts in a fluttery pink gown with her prey, Ivan.
Anna’s daughter Marya Antonovna (Talene Monahon) takes the opposite approach: She wears sober black and sullenly seems to ignore Ivan until her approach comes to an aggressive head and she orders Ivan to compose a song for her, an aria, actually. Furthermore, she insists the line endings must rhyme. Amazingly, Ivan, pounding on the pianoforte, dutifully complies.
A bumbling doctor (James Rana), who can speak only in worthless clichés, is led about by the Hospital Director (Stephen DeRosa).
It later comes out that Ivan is merely a low-level government clerk who has fled St. Petersburg for a rest. This discovery results in a lot of hijinks, with the entire cast running across the stage, going in and out of doors while Ivan hides. It looks like a cast of thousands.
Ultimately, When the real Government Inspector is unmasked, everybody, onstage and off, is amazed.
The curtain falls.
We have been greatly entertained. But mightn’t we also be a bit uncomfortable? Who and what have we seen? Is it possibly a mirror of ourselves? And of our governing officials?
I refuse to spoil the fun. “The Government Inspector” is a hilarious comedy, beautifully cast and acted. The spiffy two-level set is designed by Alexis Distler; excellent costumes are by Tilly Grimes.
Director Jesse Berger is also Artistic Director of Red Bull Theater, which, he states, “is dedicated to the exploration and creation of heightened language plays . . . . great classic stories from all eras and cultures.”
Others in the cast are Mary Lou Rosato, Tom Alan Robbins, David Manis, Luis Moreno, Ryan Garbayo, Ben Mehl, and Kelly Hutchinson.
‘The Government Inspector’
The Duke on 42nd Street
229 W. 42nd St.
Running Time: 2 hours (one intermission)
Closes: June 24
Diana Barth writes for several arts publications including New Millennium. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org