Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The Government Inspector
The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol, currently playing at the Barn Theater in a Ross Valley Players production of Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation, is one of the greatest satires of all time. And, fortunately for North Bay audiences, the team at RVP have done us all a favor with an over-the-top production that exposes the farce at the heart of Gogol's masterpiece.
The plot is simplicity itself: the mayor of a small town in tsarist Russia (Steve Price, more on him in a moment) gets word that a government official will soon be paying a visit to conduct a secret inspection. This sets the mayor into a panic as he attempts to construct a shiny façade of efficiency over the dysfunction his kleptocratic rule has enabled. When word reaches him that a young noble, Hlestakov (the appropriately dapper and charming Michel B. Harris), is currently ensconced in the town's inn, he rapidly concludes this must be the inspector whose coming was foretold. Hlestakov, of course, is merely a free-spending fop who has run through his allowance as he moves from village to village with his servant, Osip (Wood Lockhart, who practically steals the show), leaving unpaid bills in his wake. The mayor and his cronies immediately begin sucking up to Hlestakov, who revels in the attention, and uses his new-found power to solicit "loans" from the town's gentry.
Director Lisa Morse has chosen to play up the more farcical parts of Gogol's text, and it works because she maintains that level across every aspect of the production. The set, by Ron Krempetz, is delightfully shabby, with furnishings that look like the decorator waited in line for seven hours with his dining chair ration coupons. The costumes, created by Michael A. Berg, are brilliant–in multiple senses of that word, featuring gorgeous jewel tones, and accessories that almost defy description. The epaulets the mayor wears (topping a medal-bestrewn jacket) are almost architectural in their opulence. It's as if the mayor has a gold-colored Puli (look it up, it's worth it) on each shoulder, with gold dreadlocks shimmering in the light. The outfits worn by the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of The Government Inspector, the "twins" Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky (Raysheina de Leon-Ruhs and Benjamin Vasquez, respectively), include matching oversized culottes that look like they were sewn from picnic blankets.
Steve Price, as the mayor, is possibly having more fun than in any role he's ever played. With his hair greased down and combed forward into spikes across his forehead like a drooping Lady Liberty's crown, Price cackles like he's on laughing gas, clenches his hands in fisted rage, and generally embodies a man whose stress threatens at every moment to release his bowels if he even thinks about relaxing for a second. His cabal of corruption–the school principal (Robert Molossi), the hospital director (Christopher Harney), the judge (Philip Goleman), and the doctor (Greg Nelson)–circle him in an orbit of sycophancy and kowtowing.
Director Morse has wisely guided Michel B. Harris's portrayal of Hlestakov in a more subdued direction, which keeps the show from tipping over into parody. He is never less than believable as a spoiled young man with care for little beyond his own base needs and desires–and yet, we still somehow love him. But it's Osip, his servant, who we really love. Thanks to Hatcher's absolutely brilliant adaptation of Gogol's text, Osip gets off some of the best, most biting lines in the play.
There's a lot to love in this production, but only a short time in which to experience it. I recommend you give The Government Inspector your own once-over.
Ross Valley Players' production of i>The Government Inspector runs through June 5, 2022, at The Barn, in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $25 general admission, and $15 for those under 19. For tickets and information, call 415-456-9555, ext. 1, or visit www.rossvalleyplayers.com.