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The Government Inspector

Excuse me, are we discussing bribes? Because if we're discussing bribes, I freely admit I rule in favor of whatever side offers me the biggest one, but I never take money, I always take it in farm animals and game.— Judge

A bribe is a bribe. — Mayor

Not if you eat it. — Judge

It's a bribe if you eat it, it's a bribe if you drink it, it's a bribe if you spend an hour with it and it tells you it's always been attracted to powerful men but has another appointment at eight! — Mayor <
The Government  Inspector
Lawrence Redmond as the Hospital Director and Rick Foucheux as the Mayor
(Photo: Scott Suchman)
The laughs kept coming even though the situations in Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector now playing at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company are predictable. For those who are new to this Russian treasure, the plot is simple. The arrival of a government inspector and a case of mistaken identity in a small bourgeois town sets in motion much commotion and comic mayhem.

Director Michael Kahn, works with a cast that includes many (if not most) of Washington's comic actors: Rick Foucheux as the Mayor, David Sabin, the judge, Tom Story, the doctor, Floyd King, the postmaster who reads everyone's mail before delivering it, Harry A. Winter as Dobchinsky and, forgive me, a personal favorite, Hugh Nees as Bobchinsky, the none-too-smart fat cat with a very pronounced lisp. As for the women, Nancy Robinette plays the Mayor's wife the way she has played many other ditzy dames and Sarah Marshall, in three roles — Grusha the Servant, the Innkeeper's Wife — a dwarf no less – and the Corporal's widow – utilizes many of the same facial ticks and physical jokes she has used before. We know their shtick all too well. At least Robinette has almost stopped laughing at her own jokes and Marshall does not mug at the audience often.

Particularly strong in both voice and stature is Rick Foucheux as the Mayor. He delivers his lines with great relish, whether he is exhibiting civic pride or trying to reign in his nouveau riche wife (Nancy Robinette) or sullen daughter (Claire Brownell.) The latter is one of those vignettes no one is likely to forget. Rail thin, with terrible posture and eye make up, Brownell captures the spoilt brat who cannot wait to bust loose from Mom, Dad and the provinces.

With little to do but serve his master with a deadpan demeanor is Liam Craig as Osip. Never milking a line or a look, his is a solid straightman, very well done. Where the production falters, and it doesn't really falter much, is in Derek Smith's Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov, the destitute, no-good son of a disappointed father. A poseur of considerable success. Smith starts well, we believe him (almost) when he says he has nothing to live for but as his fortunes change and he is accepted for what passes as society in the little burg he's landed in, he gets drunk with success. Also, booze. It is then that Smith's performance derails and turns what was a (relatively) smooth production into a bit of a bore. After Smith's bender the show drags a bit.

Visually, as always at the Shakespeare, the show is stunning. James Noone's sets capture what one thinks of as the home of provincials who aspire to a more upwardly mobile existence. The rundown inn where a ne'er do well might hole up in 18th-century Russia exudes cold and misery. Murell Horton's costumes are terrific exaggerations of country bumpkins pretending to be city folk style. Too much color, too many ribbons for the women, loud plaids and lots of braid for the men; most triumphant, the dress worn by the very short and very pregnant Innkeeper's wife. Anne Nesmith's wigs amuse. Many of the men sport sweeping waves of hair while the Mayor's wife and daughter have topknots that look as though they might enhance a costume for Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado. It would be hard to not laugh at them.

Composer Adam Wernick and sound designer Veronika Vorel cover the transitions with splendid Russian tunes. While The Government Inspector was written two centuries ago, it's theme of petit bourgeois corruption rings very true today. Adapter Jeffrey Hatcher did an excellent job of bringing Gogol into the 21st century while keeping the charm and wit for which the play is known and loved.

The performance I attended was delayed for 15 minutes due to a malfunctioning turn table. Artistic Director Michael Kahn wittily explained that stagehands would revolve the set manually, which they did. The Russian folk music that accompanied their labor inspired the audience to clap heartily in rhythm with the tune and, when the set change was done, the stagehands got a hearty and well-deserved round of applause. The incident reminded me of Gyles Brandreth's book Great Theatrical Disasters, written long before theatre relied on turntables and computers.

The Government Inspector
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, from the original by Nikolai Gogol.
Director, Michael Kahn
Set Designer, James Noone
Costume Designer, Murell Horton
Lighting Designer, Philip S. Rosenberg
Composer, Adam Wernick
Sound Designer, Veronika Vorel

Cast: Derek Smith (Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov); Liam Craig, (Osip), Rick Foucheux (The Mayor, Anton Antonovich); Nancy Robinette (Anna Andreyevna, his wife), Claire Brownell (Marya Antonovna, their daughter); Sarah Marshall (Grusha, their servant; the Innkeeper's wife; the corporal's widow); David Sabin (the Judge); Craig Wallace (the School Principal; a merchant); Lawrence Redmond (the Hospital Director); Floyd King (the Postmaster); Harry A. Winter (Dobchinsky); Hugh Nees (Bobchinsky); Tom Story (the Doctor); Travis Blumer (a merchant; the Imperial messenger).

Running time: 2 hours, one 15-minute intermission. Dates: September 13 to October 28, 2012.
Shakespeare Theatre Company, Landsburgh, 450 7th St., NW, Washington, DC; 202-547-1122; 877-487-8849;

Review by Susan Davidson based on September 23, 2012
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