New York City Theater
"The Government Inspector"
New World Stages
Watch Michael Urie get drunk. Watch Michael Urie woo a fair maiden, evade the tentacles of a randy woman, make love to a bear rug. Watch Michael Urie “play” the piano or botch his suicide. Oh hell – just watch Michael Urie in Red Bull Theater’s hilarious, buoyant, frenetic production of “The Government Inspector.”
The gifted actor, appearing as a penurious gentleman, a one-time minor official who’s mistaken for the title character, is gifting us with a gladsome performance, surrounded by equally expert farceurs like Mary Testa, Michael McGrath, Arnie Burton, Mary Lou Rosato and Stephen DeRosa. The premise of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 comedy, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, is basically a mistaken identity story, made funnier by having the audience know more than the characters.
Directed by Jesse Berger as if everyone is high on pot, the scenes are various locations in a small provincial Russian town. On Alexis Distler’s two-level doll-house of a set, corrupt officials so used to taking bribes that their palms are forever facing upward, are appalled that a government inspector is coming to impose restrictions.
Meanwhile, Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov (Urie) and his wacky servant, Osip (Burton), are holed up in a dreary inn where Ivan tries and fails to shoot himself. Thought to be the visiting inspector, he’s whirled into the life of the town with its bribable mayor, judge, school principal, hospital director and snoopy, effeminate postmaster (also Burton).
A satire disguised as farce, the play skewers sitting ducks quacking with indignation that their cash cow may be slaughtered. Any resemblance to political thugs of our own day is strictly intentional, except these dodos are less dangerous.
Madcap physicality is punctuated by lines like “She’s a cold thing that used to be humid” or “You’re identical and you’re not even related” or this exchange “Alone at last,” followed by “Not really; I’m here.” Deathless prose? No. But silly-funny.
Like all successful productions of farce, the actors create believable characters amid the surrounding chaos. Yes, the evening is ditsy and the situations ridiculous, but there’s truth here, too. Towards the end, tables are turned as we in the audience are meant to see ourselves in these selfish characters. Maybe we don’t actually take bribes, maybe we aren’t responsible for society’s breakdown, but allowing such corruption makes us complicit.
Take that, basket of deplorables!
--David A. Rosenberg
July 30, 2017