A CurtainUp DC Review
The Government Inspector
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.