The Government Inspector, Pasadena

Written by:
George Alexander
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Shannon Holt and Adam Haas Hunter in “The Inspector General”
Photo by Ed Krieger

‘The Government Inspector’

By Nikolai Gogol
Adapted by Oded Gross
Original songs by Oded Gross
Directed by Stefan Novinski
Furious Theatre Company
The Theatre @ Boston Court, Pasadena
July 28-Aug. 26, 2012

Cotton candy is an occasional, delightful treat, an indulgence for one’s inner child — but who would want it as a four-course meal? Similarly, farce can be a useful theatrical stratagem (sly or slap-happy), but the law of too-much-of-a-good-thing still applies.

So it is with “The Government Inspector” (also translated as “The Inspector General”), written by Nikolai Gogol in 1836 and first staged at the insistence of none other than Tsar Nicholas I (autocrats, like girls, just want to have fun, I guess).

The play pivots on the hoary premise of mistaken identity, a springboard used by Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Neil Simon and many, many other playwrights through time.

The plot of “The Government Inspector” is transparent. Into a small, provincial Russian town of the early 19th century, thoroughly corrupted by its mayor, Anton (John Billingsley), and his cronies, the postmaster Ivan (Joe Fria), the judge Amos (Dana Kelly), the director of charities Artemis (Alan Brooks), and an aide Alina (Sara Hennessy) comes a — horrors! — undercover government inspector from St. Petersburg to root out the wicked and to restore municipal morality. (Any similarity to the scandal-ridden Southern California city of Bell is coincidental).

A major problem arises when none of the miscreants know when the Inspector is to arrive; actually, he’s been there all along in a snooty, supposedly Prussian doctor (Jacob Sidney). But when a vain, young and inept civil servant, Khlestakov (Adam Haas Hunter), bumbles into town with his servant Osif (Eileen T’Kaye), the guilty parties all assume he is the inspector. The mayor’s sexually frustrated wife, Anna (Shannon Holt), and their frivolous daughter Marya (Megan Goodchild), could care less about his profession; he’s a hunk and, yes, they each want a piece of him. Let the farcical games begin.

The Boston Court Theatre and the Furious Theatre Company seem to have a knack for finding wonderful casts. Like some sort of theatrical mixologist, director Stefan Novinski blends a great cocktail from the talents of Billingsley as whirling a dervish as Groucho’s Otis B. Driftwood; Holt as determined a cougar as Kim Cattrall; Brooks as fatuous as “The Big Lebowski”’s Walter Sobchak; Hunter as flakey as any Adam Sandler character; T’Kaye as clear-headed as Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher; and Sidney as snooty as Arte Johnson’s WWII German soldier. All the other performers are equally persuasive, even as the play starts to sag under the weight of too much, too much, farce.

A nod, also, to Donna Marquet’s set and Tina Haatainen-Jones’ costumes.

My only nit-pick was the handful of songs crammed into the production by Oded Gross. Not one was memorable or added the slightest forward nudge to the play. So why bother?

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