Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR (New World Stages)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on July 15, 2017

in Theater-New York


Michael Urie pops and sparkles as Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov, a foppish but penniless out-of-work clerk who gets mistaken for the Czar’s inspector by the corrupt officials of a Russian backwater in Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Revizor. Reimagined by Mr. Hatcher as an out-and-out farce and directed as such by Jesse Berger, The Government Inspector—as Mr. Hatcher’s version is called—is a comedy assault, with jokes piled on top of jokes and nearly every utterance a punch line.

There was considerable laughter from the mostly older matinee audience on the day I attended; a woman behind me only paused during intermission. Laughter, joy, these are positive things, and when everyone around you is having fun it’s easy to go along. Even when some of the jokes feel cheap or dated or corny or predictable, or all of the above. Even when lack of nuance and subtlety make the play’s themes relevant only on the most broad and superficial level. Even when the characters don’t have much substance—the game cast portrays them with energy and charm, which is reason enough to sit back and enjoy. Right?

The town’s mayor (Michael McGrath), judge (Tom Alan Robbins), school principal (William Youmans), and hospital director (Stephen DeRosa) have been living off bribes and kickbacks for years when the postmaster (Arnie Burton) arrives with grave news: The Czar has sent his inspector to their town in disguise. After some speculation, the buffoonish conspirators decide that it must be the young man from the capitol—Hlestakov—who is staying with his manservant Osip (Mr. Burton) at the local inn. They accost the bewildered Hlestakov with offers of money and favors, and it doesn’t take him long to figure out what’s going on and to assume the role of the Czar’s right hand man.

The show, staged on Alexis Distler’s bright, two-level period set, seduces one into complacent good humor. Yet thinking about it in retrospect I can’t help but be bothered by the frivolity of it all. Gogol’s play is an innovative masterpiece. Mr. Hatcher’s a forgettable trifle. It’s irksome that playwrights so cavalierly agree to adapt works of genius when they themselves have so little to say. At points Mr. Hatcher and Mr. Berger do a bit of contorting to try and persuade the audience that their show is relevant to the political reality in the U.S. today: There was corruption then and there’s corruption now, see? their argument goes. And they’re right. So then why bother writing it? Oh, that’s right. It’s all about the laughs.

Additional cast: Mary Testa, Talene Monahon, Mary Lou Rosato, James Rana, Luis Moreno, Ryan Garbayo, Ben Mehl, Kelly Hutchinson.

photos by Carol Rosegg

The Government Inspector
Red Bull Theater
New World Stages, 340 W. 50th Street
EXTENSION ends on August 20, 2017
for tickets, call 212.239.6200
or visit Telecharge

for more info, visit Red Bull Theater

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