Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Government Inspector

Nikolai Gogol's 1836 play The Government Inspector is both a slashing satire of hypocrisy and social pretension and—at least as performed by the skilled comic actors in the production now at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company—a rowdy farce. The beauty of this play is that it allows the audience to laugh at people they know, never quite realizing that they're actually laughing at an exaggerated version of themselves.

Adapter Jeffrey Hatcher transforms the language into a modern idiom, laced with pointed wit and the occasional offhand double entendre. Director Michael Kahn keeps the pace rapid: the play runs just two hours with an intermission.

The setting is an isolated Russian village where everyone knows his or her place and is fat, happy and complacent. (Some of the characters are literally fat, thanks to Murell Horton's strategic use of fat suits underneath his outrageously colorful costumes.) The mayor (Rick Foucheux) demands paybacks from the local merchants; the judge (David Sabin) justifies his bribes by accepting no money, only livestock he can eat; and the local school and hospital are unusable because the principal (Craig Wallace) and the hospital director (Lawrence Redmond) were too busy accepting kickbacks to pay attention to the details of construction.

The postmaster and town busybody (Floyd King, once again managing to convulse an audience with a single devastating line) sets the plot in motion when he announces that a government inspector from St. Petersburg is due to arrive incognito. The only possible candidate seems to be Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov (Derek Smith), a down-at-heel civil servant with no money, who has no idea what he's in for.

Who deserves primary mention in this eminently skilled cast? There are so many possibilities: Smith as a man trying to stay one step ahead of the people around him? Foucheux for his unflappable, fatuous demeanor, which he attempts to maintain even as his life falls apart? Nancy Robinette as his overly made-up wife, swathed in enormous gowns in eye-burning colors, decrying the lack of manners in "a town where people eat soup with their hands"? Claire Brownell as her constantly sulking, proto-goth daughter? Sarah Marshall for her three distinct, riotous characterizations—one of which she assays on her knees and while wearing a pregnancy pad, another with a hump on one shoulder? Hugh Nees and Harry A. Winter as the town's Tweedledum and Tweedledee, pear-shaped and dressed in matching suits?

The performance began 20 minutes late on press night because of problems with the set turntable. Special mention must go to the crew members who literally took matters into their own hands, pushing the turntable and moving James Noone's scenery from the mayor's elaborately gilded home to the shabby inn where Hlestakov stays, then back again.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Government Inspector September 13th - October 28th
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the original by Nikolai Gogol
Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov: Derek Smith
Osip, his servant: Liam Craig
The Mayor, Anton Antonovich: Rick Foucheux
Anna Andreyevna, his wife: Nancy Robinette
Marya Antonovna, their daughter: Claire Brownell
Grusha, their servant/The Innkeeper's Wife/The Corporal's Widow: Sarah Marshall
The Judge: David Sabin
The School Principal/Abdullin, a merchant: Craig Wallace
The Hospital Director/Chernyaeyev, a merchant: Lawrence Redmond
The Postmaster: Floyd King
Dobchinsky: Harry A. Winter
Bobchinsky: Hugh Nees
The Doctor: Tom Story
Pentelaeyev, a merchant/The Imperial Messenger: Travis Blumer
Directed by Michael Kahn
Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

Photo: Scott Suchman

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