|L-R: Mary Testa, Michael McGrath, Michael Urie, and Talene Monahon in THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
Nikolai Gogol’s penned his satiric masterpiece, The Government Inspector, a comedic but scathing indictment of virtually all elements of Imperial Russian society in 1834 but its publication was greeted with such animosity by all those whom it lampooned – dissolute masters and their buffoonish servants, prevaricating medical practitioners, incompetent postal workers, corrupt judges, crooked bureaucrats, dishonest academics, and adulterous wives and their hypocritical daughters – that it required the personal intervention of Tsar Nicholas I even to get the play staged for the first time in 1836. We’ve come a long way since then (haven’t we?) and this is the United States in 2017, not Imperial Russia, but corruption, bribery, misfeasance, stupidity and hypocrisy still run rampant in all too many of our institutions (a fact to which anyone who has had to deal with the IRS or the DMV or the medical or educational establishments might readily attest). Which is why Gogol’s play remains one for the ages.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s rollicking adaptation of The Government Inspector for Red Bull Theater is currently premiering at The Duke on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. It is the latest of that company’s string of classic revivals of which Red Bull may be justifiably proud.
When the leading citizens of a small provincial town in Russia – including Anton Antonovich (Michael McGrath), the town’s corrupt Mayor; the Judge (Tom Alan Robbins); the School Principal (David Manis); the Hospital Director (Stephen DeRosa); and the Police Chief (Luis Moreno) – learn that a government inspector, traveling incognito, is coming to their village to root out their corruption, all hell breaks loose. They determine to pay him whatever bribes, or do whatever else it might take, to protect themselves from his wrath. But first they have to find out who he is.
The entire play then revolves around a case of mistaken identity. Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov (Michael Urie), is a dissolute, impoverished, narcissistic civil servant from St. Petersburg but he does have a vivid imagination. When he and Osip (Arnie Burton), his servant, arrive in town, Hlestakov is mistaken for the dreaded government inspector, bribes and “loans” (never meant to be repaid) are thrust upon him. Both Anna (Mary Testa), the mayor’s wife, and Marya (Talene Monohon), their daughter, throw themselves upon him as well and, for his part, he is quite as willing to accept their advances as he is to accept the bribes he receives.
Both Michael Urie and Michael McGrath are outstanding in their starring roles as Hlestakov and the Mayor, respectively. Both Alexis Distler’s Set Design and Tilly Grimes Costume Design also deserve positive mention; they provide the perfect backdrop for this exuberant production.